Bhubaneshwar: The Odisha State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (OSCPCR) has expressed concern over the Centre’s bid to raise the minimum marriage age of girls to 21 years, pointing out that several schemes and the POCSO Act have the scope of extending support to children only up to 18 years of age.
It also noted that the move, if implemented, will override existing customs, practices and usage.
In a letter to Vinay P Sahasrabuddhe, the chairperson of Parliament Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth & Sports, the OSCPCR on Tuesday suggested that the minimum age of marriage for boys, instead, should be made 18 years.
”…I humbly request you to kindly consider not raising the legal age of marriage of girls to 21, rather keeping 18 as the minimum legal age for both boys and girls,” OSCPCR chief Sandhyabati Pradhan urged the Sahasrabuddhe-led panel.
The Prohibition of Child Marriage Bill, 2021, which has proposed a uniform rule for all communities, was introduced in Lok Sabha on December 21, 2021. It was later on sent to the Parliamentary Standing Committee for review.
If enacted, this proposed amendment will redefine ”child” to include male and female who have not completed 21 years of age.
Pradhan, in the letter, said, ”That change of legislation in isolation will never be able to stop child marriage, unless there is socio-behavioural change among parents and community. Factors like distress and poverty, patriarchal norms and practices, lack of opportunity for schooling, employment and the like are still contributing to a large extent in prevalence of child marriage.” Stating that there is also a need to strengthen families by providing appropriate livelihood opportunities, she drew attention to the fact that the Juvenile Justice Care and Protection Act and programmes like Integrated Child Protection Scheme have the scope of extending support to vulnerable children only till the age of 18 years. In such circumstances, there will be no space to provide support to a bride or groom in between the age of 19 to 21 years if rescued from child marriage, she claimed.
”Act like POCSO has restricted consensual sex up to the age of 18. This implies that someone may have sexual act after 18 but won’t be able to marry till 21. This will create new sets of issues like increasing unwed mothers and foeticide thereafter,” the commission chief said.
Pradhan maintained that the OSCPCR is spearheading a movement to end child marriage in Odisha by 2030. A high-powered state committee has been formed to facilitate the process by bringing together many government and non-government stakeholders.
The OSCPCR chairperson said she has spoken to different stakeholders, including teenagers, before taking up the matter with the Parliament committee.