Growing resistance among Opposition on change in legal age of marriage for women

The Congress is questioning the motivation of the government to bring such a bill but so far not clear on its Parliamentary position

Resistance is growing among the Opposition parties against The Prohibition of Child Marriage (A) Bill that seeks to increase the legal age for marriage for women from 18 to 21 years. The Congress is questioning the government’s motivation in bringing such a legislation, the Left parties are rejecting it on the grounds that it encroaches on women’s autonomy to decide and the Muslim parties & groups see it as an attempt to undermine the Muslim personal law.

The bill is likely to be moved in the last four days of the Winter Session of Parliament.

Congress General Secretary (Organisation) K.C. Venugopal, said that no political party is opposed to bringing gender parity and working for the women’s rights, but at the same time, he questioned the government’s intention in bringing this law. He asked, “Can the government deliver women’s rights merely by framing a law, without any accompanying infrastructural, financial and social support?”

The party, though, has not held any formal consultations on the issue, sources said. It has also not yet figured out its stand within the Parliament especially if the bill comes up for vote. The party insiders said that taking a nuanced position, the Congress will push the bill to be sent to a Parliamentary committee for a closer scrutiny.

Also read: IUML, AIMIM oppose move to raise age of marriage for women

The Trinamool Congress which is the second largest opposition party in Rajya Sabha with 13 MPs and third largest party in Lok Sabha with 22 MPs too has not yet formed an opinion on the issue. Many of its leaders feel that it is tricky terrain to negotiate. “The bill has not been circulated so far, we will have to read it and consult our leader Mamata Banerjee before taking a position,” a senior Trinamool leader said.

The DMK so far has not yet made a public statement on the issue. The government though can count on support from BJD and YSR Congress.

YSR Congress’s Lok Sabha floor leader Mithun Reddy told The Hindu, “The YSR Congress has always stood for women’s rights. Even without a formal law, 50 per cent of our candidates for the local bodies elections were women. We will welcome the bill.”

The Left parties who have seven members in Rajya Sabha and five in Lok Sabha have taken a more strident stand. “If a person can choose their MP or MLA at 18, then why not their future partner. The argument that the change will bring gender parity is also fallacious, because if that was the case, the legal age for men should have been brought down,” they said. “The government needs to explain the motivation and the context under which they have brought this bill. There were no consultations with the political parties or women groups. In a country like the United Kingdom, where the women are far better placed than here, the legal age is 18 and with consent of guardians, girls can marry at 16-years too,” CPI(M) Parliamentary Party leader Elamaram Kareem said.

The IUML has accused the government of packaging the law in a progressive garb to chip slowly away at the Muslim Personal Law. The IUML’s Rajya Sabha MP Abdul Wahab moved an adjournment notice on Friday accusing the government of encroaching on the Muslim Personal Law through this legislation. AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi on Friday through a series of tweets had slammed the government saying that it is displaying “typical paternalism that we have come to expect” from the central government. He opined that both men and women should be allowed to get legally married at 18, the age at which they can choose lawmakers and are treated as adults by law for all other purposes.

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