Marriage is an important social institution, which is universal and fundamental in nature. Since the Paleolithic age to the modern contemporary world, it has always been there but indeed it has gone through many changes as per according to the need of the hour.
Recently, The Law Commission, in its consultation paper on ‘Reform of Family Law’, recommended that 18 years should be the minimum legal age for men and women alike to get married, saying the insistence on recognizing different ages of marriage between consenting adults must be abolished. The panel further said that if the universal age for the majority is recognized, and that grants all citizens the right to choose their governments, surely, they must then be also considered capable of choosing their spouses.
There is a norm which is prevalent in every society that the age of a girl should be less than that of the age of the boy at the time of the marriage. And this is primarily supported by two main arguments-
1- Maturity and age are directly proportional to each other and thus it is believed that a mature husband can take care of his wife in a better way even though the wife is not mature enough.
2- Women can learn at an early stage about the life she has to live till her death, thus making it easier for her.
3- Early marriages increase the possibility of having more children, which was the primary expectation of a woman
Age difference facilitates greater control over women
The maintenance of the difference of 18 years for women and 21 years for men simply contributes to the stereotype that wives must be younger than their husbands.
The maturity of men is considered in case of marriage but not of women. If men are given adequate time till 21 years to enhance their capabilities, why are women being limited only to 18, particularly in a society like India where the problem of gender discrimination is so deep-rooted. The greater number in age facilitates greater control. Women are not animals, who can be controlled in any way. Secondly, if women are to be married at the same age as men, they both would have an equal sense of understanding to handle the problems and everyday nuisances of life, thus lessening the burden on one person.
By marrying a woman at the age of 18 or below, just to delude oneself with the fact that she can learn things early in life and be a good wife, a good homemaker and a good mother, is like deciding to not water a plant so that it eventually dies and mixes with soil, while losing its own aroma. Women married at 18 and stuck up in her household chores could have been a teacher, a judge or even a Prime Minister, who knows, but the society is snatching the basic chance to even try. Being a homemaker is equally good and respectable as being a CEO, but it has to be choice of that person, not forced upon her by the family or society.
Now people ask if marrying someone at an early age is such a bad thing, then why has it been done so far? There is one simple answer to this question, women are assets for control and responsibility, and thus one partner is giving up her control and responsibility so that the other one can take charge of it.
Before marriage, she is under the control of her father or brother and they have to protect her, feed her, make decisions for her then one fine day after marriage, the burden shifts to the husband.
Women are considered as a liability since birth, a sort of guest, which will remain with a family for 18 years and then she will leave, a notion which is omnipresent in every woman. This is not a western concept which has erupted recently, it has been present in the ancient law books like Manusmriti which says,” Girls are supposed to be in the custody of their father when they are children, women must be under the custody of their husband when married and under the custody of her son as widows. In no circumstances is she allowed to assert herself independently”.
The difference of 18 and 21 is not merely in numbers, it is a difference of approach and mindset. And this is not even healthy for an institution like marriage which is losing its authenticity day by day. Thus, the suggestion of a law commission must be considered so as to save our belief in marriage.