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Supreme Court dismisses petition to raise the minimum marital age for women to 21 years

A three-judge bench, led by the Chief Justice of India, decided to defer to the legislature to consider the issue.


THE Supreme Court on Monday dismissed the petition filed by Bharatiya Janata Party leader and advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay seeking to raise the minimum age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years to bring it at par with minimum age of marriage for men.

A bench comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) D.Y. Chandrachud and Justices P.S. Narasimha and J.B. Pardiwala noted that it could not issue a writ of mandamus to the Parliament and that it was for legislatures to consider the issue.

The bench told Upadhyay not to mock the court’s jurisdiction under Article 32 of the Constitution, adding that some matters are reserved for the Parliament.

We must defer to Parliament. We can’t enact law here. We should not perceive that we’re the exclusive custodian of the Constitution. Parliament is also a custodian.” CJI Dr. Chandrachud said.

Upadhyay, in his plea, contended that the distinction between the age of marriage for men and women is discriminatory and violative of Articles 1415 and 21 of the Constitution. The petition interpreted the right to live with dignity as including the right not to be perceived as unequal and the right to equal social standing.

Upadhyay urged the court to strike down the minimum marital age of 18 years for women and raise it to 21 years. An unimpressed bench observed that striking down the provision would result in no age bar for marriage for women.

The issue of uniform age of marriage is also being discussed in the Parliament. On December 21, 2021, the Union government introduced the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021 for raising the minimum age of marriage for women to 21 years to bring it at par with the minimum age of marriage for men.

The bill also contains provisions to make consequential amendments in other enactments related to the age of marriage, such as the Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872, the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936, the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937, the Special Marriage Act, 1954, the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, and the Foreign Marriage Act, 1969. However, the bill was referred to the Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth and Sports for examination.

The bill followed a report of the Union government-constituted Task Force to examine the correlation of age of marriage and motherhood, and other related aspects. In its report, the Task Force recommended raising the age of marriage for women to 21 years — on par with men — to promote gender equality in the society.

Also read: Why is increasing the minimum marriage age for girls to 21 years being debated?

Responding to questions on the issue of uniform age of marriage, the government earlier this month told the Lok Sabha that raising the age of marriage for women to 21 years would enable girls to complete their education and give them equality of opportunity in employment.

This would further enable them to achieve economic independence which would really empower women,” the government had said. Besides, it stated that marriage at the age of 21 years would enable girls to achieve physical and psychological maturity, which substantially reduces the risk of maternal mortality, low birth weight, infant mortality and child undernutrition.

Click here to read the order.