'Voting & Wedding Not Same': Jaya Jaitly on Women's Marriage Age Criticism

Jaya Jaitly, who headed the 10-member task force that recommended changing age of marriage, takes on criticism.

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"Law alone is not of any use. And as sensitive people, we realise that about any law in India," said Jaya Jaitly, who headed the 10-member task force that recommended raising the age of marriage for women from 18 to 21.

In an interview with The Quint, the former Samata Party president takes on criticism against the recommendation and answers whether it will really put an end to child marriage – the often-cited reason behind raising the age of marriage for women.

"We felt that it was wrong to have had it different from the start. Because you are automatically telling girls that you need not carry on with your studies or in empowering yourself after 18. Because then when you are ready for marriage, and at least you finish school, then all you need to do is run a home and produce children. Which has been an unfair, silent message that has been going on and being made use of."
Jaya Jaitly to The Quint

A UNICEF report says that India is home to every third child bride in the world, with more than 100 million of them getting married even before they turn 15.


How Does It Address Underlying Causes?

Feminists have long argued that simply increasing the age of marriage will serve no purpose when the causes for child marriage – poverty and lack of access to education – are not addressed.

"Changing the age of marriage is the law. The facilities that are provided in schools and for health, are not laws. They are the government infrastructure. Those infrastructures will follow the law."
Jaya Jaitly to The Quint

Why Not Reduce Marriage Age for Men?

Recommending the change, Jaitly argued that most developed countries had gender-neutral laws for age of marriage. If it is going to make no real difference, why not reduce the marriage age for men from 21 to 18, critics asked.

"If you ask me seriously, today, even a 21-year-old boy is not fit to bring up a family. How many of them, who have a free choice? I mean, there are many who are like, get the son married, in the other areas where the parents depend on the children to earn. Which boy today can assure himself after the low quality of education that he normally gets, and could not have possibly gone to college, and then to find a job right away where he can maintain himself, his wife, and a child after a year is very unrealistic."

When asked why women can't choose partners at 18 if they can choose lawmakers at the same age, Jaitly said that a vote is something that one can change after five years.

"Voting doesn't have to do with going to school and educating yourself and making yourself capable of earning. A vote is something that you can change if you have made a mistake, after five years. In a marriage, neither. So in a marriage, that clearly cannot be the criteria. You may not choose to vote at all. In the same way, you need not choose to marry at all, you know? But it is not the same as voting," she told The Quint.

'Political Class and Religious Class Not Stakeholders'

Following the approval of the proposal, the Union government tabled an amendment to the Child Marriage Act, 2006, and also the Special Marriage Act, 1954 and the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 in the winter session of 2021. However, the bills have now been referred to a 31-member Parliamentary Standing Committee which will look into them. When enacted, the law will apply to all religious communities, and will supersede personal laws.

"Unlike what the political class and the religious class are all saying, considering themselves the stakeholders, they are the least stakeholders. The stakeholders are those whose lives are ahead of them. And when we say, government should not decide age of marriage, governments all over the world have already decided," Jaitly said.

So, what happens next?

Even Jaitly feels infrastructure needs to be strengthened.

"It has been said that it will not come into operation for a year, until all these various campaigns and things are done, one year passes very quickly. So I would hope that irrespective of whatever happens, the government departments who are responsible for putting infrastructure in place, they should do so anyway," she said.

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Topics:  Age of Marriage 

Edited By :Tejas Harad
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