SC notice on transfer petition to settle uniform age of marriage for men, women

  • The petition says the present legal framework that allows girls to marry at 18 years of age and boys at 21 years of age, aggravates the gender inequality that exists within a marital relationship.
Supreme Court of India(File photo)
Supreme Court of India(File photo)
Published on Feb 03, 2021 03:46 PM IST
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ByAbraham Thomas, New Delhi

The Supreme Court issued notice on a petition seeking 21 years to be fixed as the uniform marriageable age for both men and women during the hearing on a transfer petition moved by a lawyer and BJP leader Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay.

The notice was issued to the petitioners in two similar cases pending in Delhi and Rajasthan high courts.

Upadhyay, in his petition, stated that the present legal framework, that allows girls to marry at 18 years of age and boys at 21 years of age, aggravates the gender inequality that exists within a marital relationship.

“While men are permitted to get married at the age of 21, women are married when they are just 18. The distinction is based on patriarchal stereotypes, has no scientific backing, perpetrates de jure and de facto inequality against women, and goes completely against the global trends,” the petition stated.

Upadhyay had raised this issue before the Delhi high court in August 2019 where the issue is still being examined. He later came across a similar petition filed in the Rajasthan high court by one Abdul Mannan. Both petitions argued that the different ages for marriage violated the fundamental rights of equality (Article 14), protection against discrimination (Article 15), and dignity of life (Article 21) of citizens and went against India’s commitment under the convention on elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW).

The Supreme Court has power under Article 139A to transfer to itself, cases involving the same or substantially the same questions of law pending before two or more high courts. Upadhyay decided to approach the top court for a common determination of the question of law arising in both petitions.

His petition claimed that 125 countries have uniform minimum age of marriage for boys and girls and by ending the discrimination in age, women will have equal opportunities as men to pursue their education, employment opportunities without being hindered by family compulsion to get married.

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Upadhyay argued that women in a married relationship are expected to perform a subordinate role vis-à-vis the husband. “This power imbalance is deeply aggravated by the age differential, because age itself constitutes a hierarchy of power. A younger spouse is therefore expected to respect and be servile to her elder partner, which aggravates the pre-existing gender-based hierarchy in the marital relationship,” his petition stated.

Across religions, whether it is the Hindu Marriage Act, Special Marriage Act, Indian Christian Marriage Act or the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, the marriageable age for men and women is 21 and 18 years respectively, the petition claims.

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