Marital Age of Women: Subject to Change Or Not?

The practice of matrimony is clearly one of the most notable social and relevant systems on the crust of the earth once and for all. At the heart of most families lies the social and honest relationship between a man and a woman. As this process is considered as part and parcel of society, it has a clear outlook at every turn, especially in marriage as society aims at many goals in a marriage process, such as giving birth to a new generation, shaping an exemplary society, providing comfort and peace to mind and body.

 

Unfortunately, nowadays Islam is facing a plethora of sharp edged-accusations from different walks of life on the certain misunderstanding that Islam is promoting child marriage. As a matter of fact, what they are doing is barking up the wrong tree. It is sure that their argument is fly-by-night and it is surely away from accuracy in all respects. In fact, Islam never promotes child marriage, for the term ‘Childhood’ is completely misleading. Naturally, when it comes to child marriage, the bride and groom must be five years or less. As it is widely known to all and sundry human beings’ life circle is rotating through some phases such as infancy, childhood, adolescence, youth, and old age. This points out a fact that all claims of anti-Muslims are cock and bull stories with a view to disfigure the beautiful face of Islam before the public.

 

Therefore, it is necessary to specify what age of majority is, so as to clear prevalent doubts. With the Bill seeking to raise the marriageable age of women, the age of marriage for men and women will be 21. It seeks to modify the definition of a child, stating that it means a male or female who has not completed 21 years of age. It also seeks to make consequential changes to various personal laws relating to the marriage of different communities to ensure a uniform marriage age. The draft legislation seeks to amend seven personal laws – the Indian Christian Marriage Act(1872), the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act(1936), the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act(1937), the Special Marriage Act(1954), the Hindu Marriage Act(1955), Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act(1956) and the Foreign Marriage Act(1969). The decision of the Central Government is based on the recommendation of the Karma Committee chaired by Jaya Jaitley to the Judicial Commission in December 2020. But it wasn’t set on the basis of maturity as much as mental and physical capacity.

 

Even our Indian Constitution has no specified conclusion into the matter of marital age. Reduction of voting age from 21 to 18 by 61st Amendment Act is best in this case. It sheds light on the fact that there isn’t natural uniformity for the age of marriage. This is where the outlook of Islam is considered as the daddy of them all.

 

Now, let’s go over which method of approach is accepted in the United States of America, which is considered as one of the most developed countries in the world. To date, to the tune of 13 states, the United States has not officially set a minimum age for marriage. As a rule, the legal age for marriage is generally regarded to be 12 years for girls and 14 for boys, although it hasn’t been officially established. In Alaska and North Carolina, the minimum age for marriage is 14 years. In addition to that other 19 states of the United States, the marital age is 16 years. In fact, it’s estimated that more than two million child marriages have taken place in the US in the last 15 years. According to the latest survey account of UNO, Nigeria has the highest number of child marriages in the world. 66 percent of the people in the Central African Republic got married before the age of 18 years. As well as, in the case of Somalia 45% and Nepal 41%. Most of them are not Islamic countries. The legal marital age for men and women is 16 in England. For about 100 countries in which, the age limit is 16 or less, only 19 countries, including India have set the age limit for marriage for girls at 18. In 2010, 158 countries reported that 18 years of age was the minimum legal age for marriage for women without parental consent or the approval of the relevant authority. However, in 146 countries, state or customary law allows girls under the age of 18 to marry with the consent of their parents or other authorities. In 52 countries, girls under the age of 15 can marry with parental consent. In contrast, the legal age of consent for men in 180 countries is 18. In addition, in 105 countries, boys can marry with the consent of their parents or authorities, and in 23 countries, boys under the age of 15 can marry with the consent of their parents.

 

If we walk through the corridor of history, it is certainly clear as broad daylight that the martial age is different according to each community all along with the world. Until about 50 to 100 years ago, the average age of marriage in many societies around the world was only 10 years. For instance, Mahatma Gandhi, father of the Indian nation, when he accepted Kasturba’s hand in marriage, both were 13 years. Srinivasa Ramanujan, the most accomplished mathematician India has ever seen, married his wife while she was 10 years old. Sri Rama Krishana Paramahamsa, one of India’s most famous Hindu saints, married his wife Sharadha Bhai who was 5. The great poet Kumaranasan married Bhanumati at an early age. There are still a lot of famous people like this.  A survey by UNICEF speaks volumes that 47% of marriages in India were child marriages. That is, until just 20 years ago, about half of marriages in India were child marriages. Moreover as per an Indian census in 2001, about 1.4 million girls were married between the age of 10 and 14 years. The number of married people between the ages of 15 and 18 was 63 lakhs.

[Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturba Gandhi]
If the prevailing marital approach of India is taken for discussion, it is clearly convincing that the criterion set by our constitution does not fit at all in any way. Some current doings bring home to us that a person does not have to be 18 or 21 to reach maturity in life as he/she is well-aware of what they are doing and its consequences in the future. It is an approved fact that has no room for doubts. Records of thousands of crimes are being gone beyond by leaps and bounds. More than 400 rape cases were registered as per a survey in 2001, 858 cases in 2010, and by the end of 2011 about 1000 cases were registered. The only thing more shocking to the core is that all these cases were committed by children below the age of 18. It makes us realize that the criterion in the marital age by India is not based on maturity. On the contrary, the Islamic viewpoint related to this is at variance with those mentioned above in all respects. Islamic law does not limit the minimum age for marriage to bride and groom as it is liable to change as per the climate, time, and other factors.

The widely approved criteria of marriage in the aspect of Islamic law is that she should be mature and have mental and physical capacity. Maturity is an important factor for the bride and groom in order to open the door of marriage life. As far as a woman is concerned,  in the view of Islam, she can be eligible for marriage If she attains puberty. Usually, the age of puberty occurs between the age of 10 to 14 years in the case of girls and 12 to 16 in boys. Considering the changing modern circumstances, it may seem to us that all these people who married little girls are beneath contempt. On the other hand, in the same social conditions of those days, it was very common. Having intercourse with girls who are only 9 years old can only make us feel so ugly in the present situation.

 

As far as a Muslim is concerned, although each of his movements should be according to the directives of Islam, he is permitted with a view to following what is generally practiced according to the various social conditions of each country. It’s because, as far as a believer in Islam is considered to, it’s obligatory upon him to lead his routine according to the directives of the prophet. He is not allowed at all to blow hot and cold in those matters. On the other hand, religion gives him the choice of options in certain matters according to socio-economic circumstances. In short, Islam does not set a specified marital age. Marriage can take place at a generally accepted age in the community. Therefore, for a Muslim’s part, it is not difficult to be married in any country of the world within legal limits present there as he is given consent to perform what is generally practiced in that country as per the prevailing conditions. Those who have the sole intention of persecuting Islam in all respects may not grasp this naked fact as they are still in the darkness.

Fahad AP is an independent researcher at WIRAS, India. He is currently pursuing a BA and LLB. His major area of study follows Modern Law and Literature in English.

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