The government on Tuesday told Lok Sabha that it proposes to send the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Act, 2021 to a Parliamentary Standing Committee for further discussion. Introduced by Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani amid opposition from Congress and other parties for the haste in which it was being brought in, the Bill seeks to increase the legal age for women to marry to 21 years from 18 years.
“I understand the social, cultural, familial and sentimental issues associated with this decision. I wish to myself propose on behalf of the government that this is discussed in detail in Standing Committee. On behalf the government, I would request that this Bill be sent to the Standing Committee,” Irani said.
Earlier, the Opposition criticised the government for the hurried introduction of the Bill by mentioning it in the supplementary list of business without consulting states and other stakeholders. They had demanded that the Bill be sent to a Standing Committee for wider consultation given its sensitivity.
The Opposition also said that the Bill was a violation of fundamental rights and would impact personal laws.
Replying to the criticism, Irani said, “We are 75 years late in providing equal rights to men and women to enter into matrimony. In the 19th century the marriagable age for women was 10 years. By 1940, it was increased to 12-14 years. In 1978, women who reached the age of 15 were married. For the first time, through this Bill, men and women, keeping in mind the right to equality, can decide on their marriage,” Irani said.
She insisted that the proposed legislation was secular. “All women from all faiths, under Hindu Marriage Act or the Muslim Personal Law, should get equal rights to marry,” she said.
The minister took exception to suggestions that uneducated women would not be able to understand or exercise their rights, saying it was “an insult to the rural women”.
Irani said that between 2015 and 2020, as many as 20 lakh cases of child marriage were stopped. The NFHS data shows that between the age of 15 and 18, 7% women have been found to be pregnant, she said. As many as 23% girls were married before the age 18, although the law does not allow it, she added.
“Today these people, specially men, who are opposing me and shouting slogans in front of me, should be ashamed that they are denying women the right to equality. This House cannot be witness to this disrespect to women,” Irani said.
Speaking on introduction of the Bill, Congress leader of the House Adhir Ranjan Chaudhary said, “Suddenly, we saw that in the supplementary list of business this Bill has been mentioned. We want to suggest to the government that if you do anything in haste you are likely to commit mistakes. Across India, this issue has generated a lot of debate. And this government has neither consulted states nor spoken to stakeholders. I am surprised why the government introduces one Bill after another in haste. It betrays the ill intentions of the government. We demand that this Bill be referred to the Standing Committee right away.”
AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi said it was in violation of fundamental rights under Article 19.
“An 18-year-old can choose the PM, can have a live-in relationship, can have a sexual relationship under POCSO Act, but you are denying the right to marry. What have you done for the 18-year-olds? The women’s participation in the labour force in India is lower than Somalia. This Bill should be taken back,” he said.
IUML’s E T Mohammed Bashir said the Bill was unconstitutional and violative of Article 25 of the Constitution. “This is an attack on the personal law and the fundamental rights in this country,” he said.
NCP, DMK, Shiv Sena and TMC too demanded the Bill be sent to Standing Committee.
Before the House was adjourned for the day around 2.40 pm, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Arjun Ram Meghwal informed the House that the government had recommended Chartered Accountants, The Cost And Works Accountants And The Company Secretaries (Amendment) Bill, 2021 to be sent to the Standing Committee.
The Lok Sabha on Tuesday also witnessed disruptions from the Opposition over issues of NEET in Tamil Nadu and the demand for resignation of Minister of State for Home Ajay Kumar Mishra. In the morning, the House was adjourned 45 minutes into the Question Hour due to the ruckus. As the House reconvened at 2 pm, Chaudhary raised the demand of Mishra’s resignation again even as DMK’s T R Baalu alleged that the Tamil Nadu Governor was sitting on a legislation passed by the assembly to abolish NEET for three months and not sending it to the President for his assent.