The Odisha State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (OSCPCR) has opposed the union government’s move to raise the minimum legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years. Rather, it has proposed to bring down the minimum marriage age of men to 18.
OSCPCR chairperson Sandhyabati Pradhan on Tuesday wrote to chairperson of Parliament Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth & Sports, Vinay Sahasrabuddhe in this regard.
Notably, the Centre introduced the Prohibition of Child Marriage Bill, 2021 in Lok Sabha on December 21, 2021, which was later sent to the Parliamentary panel led by Sahasrabuddhe for review.
“That change of legislation in isolation will never be able to stop child marriage, unless there is socio behavioural change among the parents and community. Factors like distress and poverty, patriarchal norms and practices, lack of opportunity for schooling, employment and the like are still contributing in a large extent in prevalence of child marriage,” Pradhan said.
There is also a need to strengthen families by providing appropriate livelihood opportunities, she said.
The Juvenile Justice Care and Protection Act and schemes like Integrated Child Protection Scheme have the scope to extend support to such vulnerable children only up to the age of 18. In such circumstances, there will be no space to provide support to a child bride/groom in between the age of 19 to 21 if rescued from child marriage, she pointed out.
“Act like POCSO has restricted consensual sex up to the age of 18. This implies that someone may have sexual act after 18 but won’t be able to marry till 21. This will create new sets of issues like increasing unwed mothers and foeticide thereafter,” the Commission chief said.
Keeping the above facts in mind, Pradhan requested the Committee to consider not raising the legal age of marriage of girls to 21, rather keeping 18 as the minimum legal age for both boys and girls.
In addition to this, the Committee may consider to recommend more accountability of the State towards building an enabling environment where the girls can dare to fulfil their desires which will build courage within them to say no to child marriage, she added.