Legislation to raise women's age of marriage may pose legal complications

New Delhi: The Bill seeking to fix 21 years as the uniform age of marriage for women and men may have far-reaching implications when it is enacted after receiving Parliament's sanction and the President's assent. But there are no changes mooted in the existing provisions like the age of majority (above 18 years of age) and minority as per the Indian Majority Act.

A significant change envisaged is in the definition of "child" in the Child Marriage Restraint Act. The Bill seeks to modify the definition of a "child" by stating that child means a male or female who has not completed 21 years of age. The existing definition of child means a male who is below 21 years of age and female below 18 year of age.

As per the Indian Christian Marriage Act, the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, the Special Marriage Act, the Hindu Marriage Act and the Foreign Marriage Act, a woman having 18 years of age can marry.

As per the Muslim Personal Law, the male can marry when he attains maturity and majority while the female can marry if she attains the age of 15. This was given in the "The Principles of Mohammedan Law" written by Dinshah Fardunji Mulla. The book is considered to be the most authentic and interpretative book on the subject.

Other main changes
The Bill proposes major changes in the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act (1956). The changes are sought in the clauses regarding natural parents.

The parent status given to husband if a minor girl gets married is to be scrapped.

The word "unmarried" will be taken out from the clause stating that the parental responsibility of boys and unmarried girls would first rest with the father and then with the mother.

The word "unmarried" will be taken out from the clause stating that the parenting responsibility of the boy and unmarried girl born out of illicit relationship should first lie with the mother and then with the father.

In the Geetha Hariharan Vs. Reserve Bank of India case (1999), the Supreme Court had made it clear that father and mother have the same responsibility, going by the gender equality provisions existing in the Indian Constitution.

The Bill also aimed at amending provisions of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act (1956), which is applicable to Hindus, Buddhists, Jain and Sikhs. The adoption is now made legal for other communities as per the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act.

As per the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, those who are not minor can adopt a child. As per this law, a minor is a person below 18 years of age. There is no amendment to this definition. But a new clause will be added by which any person not less than the age of 21 can go for adoption.

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