18, 21, or 16: How different nations view legal age for marriage?

With the introduction of ‘The Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021’ by the Union cabinet, the legal age for marriage has become an important discussion.

On Tuesday, while addressing a rally of about 2.75 lakh women from all 75 districts of Uttar Pradesh, PM Modi claimed that his government has decided to raise the age of marriage for girls to 21 years because girls wanted to study further.

The bill has been criticised by the opposition, women rights activists, and organisations stating that the act is a violation of a woman’s personal liberty and does not work on the grassroots to resolve the cause of early marriages. The backlash has reportedly put the bill under reconsideration.

The parties that are against the bill are the Congress Party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM), the Samajwadi Party, and All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM).

MS Education Academy

SAARC and the world on age for marriage:

A majority of the countries around the world have set the legal age for marriage of men and women after they attain the age of 18, a few countries have added an asterisk to their law.

South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is the regional intergovernmental organization and geopolitical union of states in South Asia comprising Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and India.

Afghanistan is currently facing a crisis due to COVID-19 and isolation from parts of the world after being taken over by the Taliban in August, has legalised the marriage of girls who have attained the age of 16, without parental consent whereas, boys can get married only once they turn 18.

Bangladeshi women are eligible to get married legally once they turn 18 whereas men need to attain 21 years of age to be eligible for marriage.

In Bhutan and Maldives, men and women can get married after they attain 18 years of age, whereas in Nepal one can get married only once they turn 20.

The Fede­ral Shariat Court (FSC) of Pakistan on October 28 held that setting the minimum age limit at 16 years for a girl’s marriage would help them get at least a basic education and does not violate any religious law. Men in Pakistan are not legally eligible for marriage until they are 18.

In Srilanka, while the marriageable age for non-Muslim females was 18, Muslim Marriages and Divorce Act (MMDA) allowed child marriages by not specifying a minimum age, preventing them from signing their own marriage contract, subjecting them to being forced into marriage.

In July this year, breaking the archaic 1951 law, the Sri Lankan cabinet allowed Muslim women to get married under ordinary law – the Marriage Registration Ordinance in Sri Lanka, where one can get married after attaining 18 years of age.

The west and other countries

Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America (USA) have set the legal age for marriage at 18 years, for both men and women. However, a few states remain divided on the issue.

In Nebraska, one can get married only once they turn 19. Whereas Massachusetts has the lowest minimum marriage age with parental consent at 14 years for boys and 12 years for girls.

However, England, Wales, and Canada permit the marriage of 16 and 17-year-olds, with parental consent, while others take part in non-registered marriages at younger ages.

Mexico permits boys 16 years of age and above to be married, whereas 14-year-old girls can be married with parental consent.

In Argentina and Australia, one attains marriageable age only at 18, however, parental consent and permission from the court may allow them to be married once they attain 16 years of age.

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