Raising the minimum age of marriage for women is welcome, but...

Legislation alone may not be effective when social practices are deep-rooted; awareness and dialogue are needed too

Saksham Misra | December 17, 2021


#Law   #society   #marriage   #union cabinet   #the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act  
(Illustration: Ashish Asthana)
(Illustration: Ashish Asthana)

The Union Cabinet has approved the proposal to amend the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act. The proposal seeks to increase the legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 21, bringing it at par with men. I welcome this proposal as a progressive move towards empowering women and strengthen the tenets of gender equality. But I have a fundamental concern with regards to the efficacy of the proposed amendment. By ‘efficacy’ I mean how effectively this amendment can bring the social changes in society and yield the desired outcomes for which it is proposed. This concern of efficacy is more pertinent in the context of personal laws because it pokes into our family affairs.

I argue that the efficacy of personal laws or any progressive legislation, which aims to bring about structural changes in society, highly depends on its ‘legitimacy’ and not purely on its content. The legitimacy of a law can be measured from its social acceptance – how smoothly society accepts the changes which the proposed legislation is bringing. If the changes are too radical, then it becomes difficult for a legislation to gain social acceptance.

Let me exemplify my argument. The recently repealed farm laws are a classic example of how a legislation aiming for making structural changes in the agriculture sector failed due to lack of social acceptance (legitimacy) by the farmers community. We need to learn from the farm laws episode that for bringing in structural changes in society through a legislation, we need to first do the groundwork of creating its social acceptance. This groundwork will develop social consensus for the changes which the law will bring.  

Therefore, I am raising the concern of efficacy, as to how efficiently the proposed amendment related to the minimum age of marriage for women will gain social acceptance. This is a seminal issue in the context of rural India where child marriage is still deep-rooted. I doubt whether the rural and suburban India will accept the increase in the age of marriage, or would rather continue with their existing social practices. To put it more clearly, whether the said amendment will be socially accepted or it will remain on paper? This concern is relevant because we have a law in force which prohibits the child marriage but still we can see that the practice of child marriage is widespread.

I strongly believe that apart from taking legislative steps, the policymakers must create awareness and dialogue within society. The problems like child marriage cannot be resolved just by passing laws and penalising offences. Social problems like child marriage are deep-rooted and mostly they are intermixed with cultural or religious beliefs of society. They can be resolved by creating social awareness and initiating dialogue. This does not mean that I am rejecting the role of legislation in resolving social problems; rather I am suggesting that both legal and non-legal measures must be used to resolve social problems.

Misra is Assistant Professor, Indore Institute of Law (IIL).

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