After the headlines reading the government to revise marriage age for women in our country, all are impressed by the step and it is indeed a topic of interest. But the predicament lies in the sole consideration of women’s marriage age in India. Where the whole world is implying the rich sides of women empowerment, there is another side of the story.
The official marriage age still stands as sole guidelines for many of the most developed countries. Though the marriage age should not be bewildered with the age of consent or age of maturity but it is mere talk for the world. Where UNICEF considers marriage below 18 years to be reported under violation rights, there are cases of child marriage in many countries including India.
It is a matter of fact that historically sexual consent was the least consideration before marriage and the decision solely lied on the tribal custom or families. Yes, menstruation in girls and pubic hair for boys were considered to be the defining factors for marriage but tradition still perceives position over laws in many countries nowadays.
According to reports, in 2010 around 158 countries reported the minimum age of marriage without pertinent authority or parental consent for women was 18 years. But the noticeable part is, around 146 of those 158 countries had customary or state laws allowing girls under 18 years to marry with parental consent, and around 52 countries had laws situating child marriage under 15 years with parental consent. Also, 18 years is the legal marriage age for boys in 180 countries where around 105 countries had laws stating boys under 18 could marry with parental consent and in 23 countries, boys below 15 were lawfully allowed to marry with consent of their parents.
According to United Nation Conventions and Resolutions, “child, early and forced marriage is the violation of fundamental human rights.” UN Conventions and Resolutions consider marriage under 18 to be a harmful practice because:
1. Under age marriage leverages physical, personal and emotional maturity of girls relating to unsuitable transition to adulthood.
2.Under age marriage denies women general standard, reproductive health and sexual health which further leads to extreme violation of rights.
3.Under age marriage restricts opportunities like right to education, political participation and no participation in socio-economic activities.
According to UNICEF, in India at least 1.5 million girls aged under 18 are married which makes the country to be the largest holder of child brides in the world. It also states that around 16% of girls of age 15-19 are currently married.
Why should marriage age escalate?
Marriage necessitates adult responsibilities and with responsibilities comes consequences and age is something that is the prior aspect to be seen before bearing responsibilities. Like men, women have the right to be sexually fit and to have good reproductive health which definitely involves safe and consensual intimacy. Women should have the freedom to decide if they want a child, if they should postpone pregnancy, if they have proper capability to reproduce and if they could potentially handle the child’s responsibility.
Since marriage decides so many of the responsibilities and it is important to ensure that premature children are not bound to those circumstances, it is important to set a minimum age of marriage to prioritize legal maturity and adulthood.
Studies show that the main determinant of fertility is the marriage age and early marriage is highly associated with higher completed fertility at the very end of childbearing years. Younger marriage leads to increased child bearing which positively contributes to the population growth of the country. Coale and Tye proposed a move to incorporate age of marriage into population policy discourse where they showed in India the fertility was highest in the age group of 20-24 as compared to Singapore where the increased fertility was noted for the 25-26 year old age group. The study also revealed that crude birth rate will be decreased by 8% in the coming 10 years but the children born per woman will be the same increasing the mean generation length by approximately 2.7 years.
Contraception and Child Bearing
Another major concern of not having an age for the marriage age is the deceased contraception options and child bearing in India.
According to BMC, where they investigated Demographic and Health Survey data from 47 countries, it was calculated that non-use of contraceptive methods is one of the major reasons for increased non-consensual sexual intercourse between partners leading to pre-prepared child bearing. Due to infrequent sex, health concerns and lack of knowledge, non-use of contraceptive is increasing daily. The report concludes around 40.9% women are in the practice of non-use contraceptive and unable to avoid pregnancy even after their will. Another study from Raj et al. showed that women in India below 18 years demonstrated shorter birth intervals among women who married after 18.
The shorter birth intervals also indicates more desired fertility among women who marry before age. The higher termination of pregnancies have another implication in India which could possibly be son preference which is another countable taboo in the country. Also, reduced condoms put women’s health in trouble causing further complications in fertility as well as other diseases.
Health and Nutritional status of child
Nutritional status of the child is the outgrowing cause of degradation for women in India when it comes to fixating a marriage age. According to reports from Plos One, 66% of Indian married adolescents among 8 million are nulliparous and among married young women about 9.1% are nulliparous. Another study shows under aged married women are 20% more likely to have stunted and underweight children as compared to older women. This strictly shows that early marriage affects the nutritional health of the child and increases chances of under-nutrition, cognitive development and poorer brain of the child.
Most of the South Asian societies put forward a choice for the girl child between education and other life options, though education should be a necessity not a choice. As education builds a wall for further achievements in life, Indian women are justified to be married early and choose an easy life rather than attending schools and colleges. A DHS data(2005-2006) confirmed that only a delay in marriage could increase the schooling of girl child by 0.22 year and the report also states that the median age at marriage increases with education level for women aged between 25-49 years.Education also has a lot to do with domestic violence as less educated women are likely to tolerate and participate more in household, indecisive actions and experienced violence. The less educated the woman is, the more will be the chances of exploitation.
Fixated marriage age and empowerment
In an interview conducted among five Indian states with 8,314 young women all aged between 20-24, it was found that the elder women who have been married after 18 or 21 years have been 1.24 times less likely to be facing exploitation, physical violence or sexual abuse. This clearly establishes the proportionality of young women to harassment, violence and intimate abuse.
Education, absence of contraception and less affiliation to the outer world is creating a nuance for younger women to be threatened by family or husband. When the world is witnessing huge technological advancement, people are becoming tech savvy and digital is the way of living, cases like child marriage and women harassment is an abomination to the country. At the very same time, bourgeois and dependent women are looking forward to seeking help. The least to offer them is to grant their very own rights which means not only noting the rights on paper but having proper implementations.