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Incentivisation is better than higher legal marriage age for girls
The Prime Minister in his independence day speech has proposed raising the marriage age of girls from 18 to 21. The objective of this action is to improve the social, physical and nutritional well being of girls.
Benefits of higher marriage age:
- Delayed marriage and parenthood leads to better physical, emotional and cognitive development of women from adolescence to adulthood
- Better education beyond schooling. This improves cognitive and emotional development as well as agency.
- Prevents pregnancy related undernutrition: Pregnancy and delivery at early age increases the nutrition requirement of already undernourished and anaemic girls. This leads to undernutrition of not only mothers but also babies. Hence delayed marriages will lead to reduced anemia, stunting, wasting.
- Reduces IMR and MMR due to better health
- Gender parity is achieved: Both boys and girls having 21 years of age ensures that patriarchal notion of age of boy should be more than girl is done away in law.
Underlying socio-economic causes of early marriage and undernutrition will not be addressed only by increasing marriage age
- Deficiencies in schooling and higher education opportunities
- Poverty and related issues of nutrition, reduced schooling of girls and early marriages
- Limited economic opportunities
Also, delayed marriage without addressing these issues of undernutrition will not yield desired results.
In addition, higher legal age of marriage for girls can produce adverse outcomes like use of it by parents to punish love marriages of inter caste and inter faith in nature. Further, poor households will suffer.
Hence ‘punitive paternalism’ approach of only raising marriage of girls will be less effective than ‘autonomy enhancing paternalism’.
Autonomy enhancing paternalism approach:
In this approach, empowerment is incentivized to enhance autonomy of girls. Steps to do so are:
- Incentivizing education upto and beyond class 12. This leads to delayed marriages. Further, it will lead to improved autonomy in sexual health, improved cognitive and mental development.
- Incentives like free bicycles, free laptops to girls to continue education
- Improving nutrition services to women of all strata to address undernutrition and anemia. ICDS must be provided with more finances.
Institutions to do so are already in place such as ICDS. These must be pursued in a mission mode similar to Swachh Bharat.
Such incentive models will produce better results as seen in institutional delivery under Janani Suraksha Yojana.
18 is the legal age of marriage in many countries and there is no need to increase it further in India. Focus must be on incentivising education and nutrition services delivery to girls. This will lead to achieving desired outcomes in girl child health(nutrition and sexual), education and economic independence.
Source: Indian Express
- Critically discuss whether increased legal age of marriage will lead to better empowerment of women? [15 marks, 250 words]