[Answered] Increasing the age of marriage without a commensurate improvement in women’s education is least likely to yield better health and nutritional outcomes. Discuss.

Introduction: Contextual introduction.
Body: Explain how women’s education yields better health and nutritional outcomes than increasing the age of marriage.
Conclusion: Write a brief conclusion.

Recently, the Union Cabinet has passed a proposal raising the legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years- the same as men. Several empirical studies from South Asia establish a significant association between early marriage and adverse health and educational outcomes for women and their children. Childhood marriages are associated with early pregnancy, lower likelihood of accessing ante-natal care, higher risks of maternal morbidity and mortality, and poor nutritional status.

However, the following points indicate that factors like education are crucial along with the increase in the age of marriage for improving health and nutritional outcomes.

  • The lack of educational opportunities plays an important role in facilitating child marriage.
  • NFHS-5 data show that about 25% of women aged 18-29 years married before the legal marriageable age of 18. Around 39% of child marriages in India take place among the sections that are educationally backward. Thus, it proves that merely increasing the age of marriage may not stop child marriages.
  • Another facet of this scenario is that while an increase in education is most likely to delay marriage, the increase in age at marriage may or may not increase women’s education.
  • NFHS data shows that illiterate women married at 21 also have also been found to be iron deficient in high numbers.
  • Case of Bangladesh shows that improving women’s education and imparting modern skills to them that increase their employability reduces child marriage and improves health and nutrition.
  • Better jobs: Woman with more education is more likely to be employed and get a job that provides health-promoting benefits such as health insurance, paid leave, and retirement.
  • Resources for good health: Women with higher incomes can more easily purchase healthy foods and pay for health services. Conversely, the job insecurity, low wages, and lack of assets associated with less education can lead to poor nutrition, unstable housing, and unmet medical needs.

Way forward:

  • Educating women is important for their personal freedom, social well-being and contributes to human development.
  • A legalistic approach to increasing the age at marriage will produce positive results only if it leads to an improvement in women’s education and skill acquisition for employability.
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