Union Minister Smriti Irani termed the introduction of the bill thhat will fix 21 years as the uniform age of marriage for women and men, as a "decisive step" in the country's history.
The introduction of the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021 was opposed by some members who contended that the move infringed upon several personal laws in violation of fundamental rights and demanded that it be referred to a parliamentary panel for greater scrutiny.
Soon after the introduction of the bill, Irani, the Women and Child Development Minister, urged the Chair to refer it to a standing committee.
The bill seeks to amend seven personal laws -- the Indian Christian Marriage Act; the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act; the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act; the Special Marriage Act; the Hindu Marriage Act; and the Foreign Marriage Act.
Irani said the bill also seeks to override all existing laws, including any custom, usage or practice governing the parties in relation to marriage. Opposition members hit out at the government for the introduction of the bill in a “hurry” and “without any consultation with stakeholders”.
Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the manner in which the bill was introduced was reflective of the “nefarious intentions” of the government of not holding any consultations.
Congress deputy leader in Lok Sabha Gaurav Gogoi said the provisions of the bill were contrary to the Law Commission recommendations that had suggested making 18 years as the uniform marriageable age for men and women.
IUML member E T Mohammed Basheer said the bill was “unwanted, unconstitutional and violation of Article 25 of the Constitution”. "This bill is an attack on the personal laws and fundamental rights,” he said.
AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi termed the bill a “retrograde step”. “At 18 years, a girl can choose prime minister, have live-in relationship, have sexual relations, but you are denying her the right to marriage,” Owaisi said.
NCP member Supriya Sule and DMK member Kanimozhi also pitched for referring the bill to a standing committee. RSP member N K Premachandran said the government should spell out how it plans to make the law enforceable.
Responding to the opposition, Irani said that had the opposition members heard her patiently, they would have known that the government was ready to refer the bill to the standing committee. She urged the Chair to refer it to the standing committee. "As a democracy, we are 75 years late in providing equal rights to men and women to enter into matrimony,” she said.
Irani said that seven per cent of the girls aged between 15 and 18 years were found to be pregnant and nearly 23 per cent of the girls were married below the age of 18 years.
"It is also important to bring down the incidence of teenage pregnancies, which are not only harmful for women's overall health but also result in more miscarriages and stillbirths,” she said in the statement of objects and reasons of the bill.
She said there were also imperatives for lowering maternal mortality rate and infant mortality rate, as well as improvement of nutrition levels and sex ratio at birth, as these would promote possibilities of responsible parenthood for both father and mother, making them more capable of taking better care of their children.
The amendments to the bill will become effective two years from the date it receives Presidential assent so as to provide sufficient opportunity to one and all in the collective efforts and inclusive growth, and to make effective other provisions immediately.
(With PTI Inputs)