Age of marriage: India

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Age of marriage

The practice in other countries

The minimum age of marriage in the leading economies of the world, 2017
From Oct 12 2017: The Times of India
The minimum age of marriage in France, Germany and Spain, 2017
From Oct 12 2017: The Times of India

The international practice

See graphics:

The minimum age of marriage in the leading economies of the world, 2017

The minimum age of marriage in France, Germany and Spain, 2017

The practice in other countries in 2018

The minimum age of marriage: The practice in other countries in 2018.
From: October 23, 2018: The Times of India

See graphic:

The minimum age of marriage: The practice in other countries in 2018.

How widespread is the prevalence of underage marriages?

2005-15: Literacy rate, and percentage of women married before 18

Indian women: Literacy rate, and percentage of women married before 18, 2005- 2015; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, January 21, 2016

See Graphic, 'Indian women: Literacy rate, and percentage of women married before 18, 2005- 2015...'

CENSUS 2011 - In 33% of marriages, women weren't 18

Age at the time of marriages: Males and females; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India

The Times of India Apr 03 2015

CENSUS 2011 - In 33% of marriages, women weren't 18

Subodh Varma

Far-reaching changes seem to be occurring in the way marriages are fixed in India, and one of these is the age at which marriages take place. About one-third of all married women in the country tied the knot before turning 18. Among men, this proportion was much smaller at just 6%. But, the overwhelming majority of women got married by the time they were 25, revealing social pressures -and perhaps lack of employment -still at work.

These and related findings, including a rising trend of men and women not marrying at all, emerge from the recently released Census 2011 data on marriage.

Among those married up to four years prior to 2011, around 17% of women and just 3% men were below 18 years of age at the time of marriage. To compare this with the past, we can look at the age at marriage of people married 20 or 30 or even 40 years ago. Among such mid dle aged and elderly persons, 50% of women and 16% of men reported getting married before they were 18.

So, are people marrying later? Yes and no. Clearly , much less people are marrying before the legally permitted ages of 18 years for women and 21 years for men, compared to earlier. But here's another fact: 92% of women were married by the time they reached 25 years of age. This was the case among those married up to four years before the Census in 2011. Among women married for 20 to 29 years, a huge 96% had got married by the time they reached the age of 25.

For men, the situation was different earlier, and it has changed even more in recent years. Among men mar ried in the past four years, nearly one-third tied the knot after they had reached 26. Between 20 and 30 years ago, the proportion of such men was 22%. Forty years ago, 12% men married after age 26.

“Age at marriage is delayed, possibly due to increasing levels of education and campaigns to delay marriage,“ said Rajni Palriwala, professor of sociology at Delhi University . Another factor is finding the right match because nowadays, criteria beyond caste and present parental economic status are brought in and men's economic status is more uncertain, she told TOI.

What is the reason for the continuing trend of women getting married in their early 20s? Prevalent ideas in society about a woman's economic, social, and sexual security can is the main reason behind this, says Palriwala.

“For women and their families, values of marriage, ideas of reproductive period, stigma and perceptions of so cial and sexual dangers of single women, persisting ideas of marriage as women's primary life trajectory , and adverse sex ratio means that marriage is not delayed beyond the age seen as ideal for reproduction,“ she said.

The Census data also shows more men and women remain unmarried than earlier. In 2011, about 6.4% of all persons older than 25 years were unmarried. That works out to about 3.89 cr people -2.89 crore men and 1 crore women. In 2001, the proportion of never married persons in the above 25 years age group was slightly lower at 5.3%.That's 2.5 crore persons -1.95 crore men and 56 lakh women.

Palriwala explains that adverse sex ratios mean that in any age group there are more men than women and at first marriage for women, the more eligible men will be matched while others remain unmarried.“Long distance marriage for men in more prosperous areas has emerged as a path but not a solution. So there's persisting non-marriage for men,“ Palriwala explained.

2014: Number of married and separated teenagers, 10-14 years

Number of married and separated teenagers in major states, 10-14 years of age; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India

See graphic. 'Number of married and separated teenagers in major states, 10-14 years of age...'

2015-16: Decline in under-age marriages of girls

The Times of India, January 21, 2016

Sushmi Dey

Dramatic decline in under-age marriages of girls, says survey

Signaling a strong wave of women empowerment, indicators for female health, literacy , financial means and age of marriage over the past decade show positive upswings, the findings of the fourth national family health survey (NFHS-4) 2015-16 reveal.Findings of the survey depict a dramatic decline in under age marriages with women found to be marrying late even though the trend for men seems to be the reverse. For instance, in Bihar, less than 40% of women in the age group of 20-24 years were married before 18 years of age. This is compared to 60.3% of women in the same age group marrying before 18 years according to the third round of survey conducted in 2005-06. Similarly, Haryana has witnessed a sharp improvement with less than 19% of women marrying before reaching 18 years now, as compared to almost 40% during the previous survey.

But results of the survey co vering 13 states and two union territories show men are getting married at an early age now. In Goa, for instance, 10.6% of the men in the age group of 25-29 years married before 21 years of age, an increase from 7.2% 10 years ago. Similar trends were spotted in Tamil Nadu and Tripura.While in Tamil Nadu, percentage of the men marrying before the age of 21increased to around 17% during NFHS-4 from 14% 10 years ago, 22% of the men in Tripura married before 21 years, as against 19% earlier.

The latest survey shows a marked improvement in literacy rate of women. In around 11 out of 13 states, literacy rate of women have gone up over the past decade. While Goa tops the list with 89% literate women in the age group of 15-49 years, Sikkim is a close competitor with 86.6%. In Bihar, the female literacy rate jumped from 37% in the 2005-06 survey to 49.6%. The literacy percentage increased in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.

2015-16: 25% of wives aged 14-20 married as minors

Sushmi Dey, 25% of wives aged 14-20 tied knot when minors, October 12, 2017: The Times of India

Child brides, some statistics, urban, rural and total, 2015-16, and a comparison with 2005-16;
From: Sushmi Dey, 25% of wives aged 14-20 tied knot when minors, October 12, 2017: The Times of India

Though the number of women marrying before 18 years of age in India has declined drastically over the last decade, it continues to be significantly high with more than a fourth of married women in the age group 14-20 having wedded as minors.

The figure is for 2015-16 and shows that the percentage of women getting married before 18 dropped from 47.4% in the Na tional Family Health Survey-3 of 2005-06 to 26.8% in NFHS-4. In fact, only 7.9% of women aged 15-19 years were already mothers or pregnant at the time of the survey of 2015-16 as compared to 16% in 2005-06.

The data assumes significance in the light of the Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday that sex with a wife who is under 18 years of age is rape and, therefore, a crime while rejecting the Centre's plea justifying the provision on the grounds that child marriage is a reality in India and has to be protected. The NFHS-4 data also shows violence against married women across the country has also come down in the last decade with percentage of ever-married women who faced violence from spouse dropping from 37.2% to 28.8% in around 10 years.

Experts said the verdict will reduce the incidence of early marriage and child trafficking, apart from addressing the challenges in population control.

2017: ‘27% of Indian girls get married before turning 18’

Poll: 27% of Indian girls get married before turning 18, Oct 19 2017: The Times of India

In one of the tiny rooms of a mud house at Gaindi Khata village, 20 km from Haridwar, 10year-old Farida inspects her silver earrings with great concentration. The hoops are a gift from her fiancé. He gave it to her during the ejan -engagement ceremony -in August.The little girl says her nikaah will take place soon.

In this village of Van Gujjars, known locally as the “land of minor brides“, many of the roughly 800 girls living with their families will be getting married this winter. Some of them will be as young as 13, and almost all below 18. Despite the Supreme Court order banning underage sex in mar riage, these girls will then head to their husband's house.

“I am happy for Farida.The groom even gifted her silver earrings worth Rs 500 during the ejan,“ said 38-year-old Reshma, the girl's mother. Reshma has five daughters and a two-year-old son. The eldest girl, 13-year-old Shahnaz, had her ejan when she was 10 and will get married along with her younger sister Farida. Reshma, who was herself 13 when she married to join the ranks of thousands of adolescent mothers in the community , said girls here have no education and little knowledge about the outside world. “How can we allow them to live on their own?“ she asked.

According to a United Nations report, 27% girls in India are married off before they turn 18, resulting in poor maternal mortality rate (MMR). The annual health survey (AHS), 2012-13, had found that Haridwar recorded one of the highest MMR (158) among 13 districts, contributing to nearly 40% of total related deaths across Uttarakhand.

The latest National Family Health Survey IV shows that 13.9% girls in Uttarakhand are married before they turn 18. For Delhi, the number stands at 13%.

The highest recorded cases of child marriage were in West Bengal (40.7%), Bihar (39.1%), Jharkhand (38%), Rajasthan (35.4%), and Andhra Pradesh (32.7%). Back in Gaindi Khata, the elders, when told about the apex court order, insisted all the girls getting married this year were above 18. But a bunch of girls TOI spoke to said they were between eight to 15 years of age.

“My nikaah is over and now only gauna (ceremony associated with the consummation of marriage) has to take place since I have just attained puberty . I am 13,“ said Maryam Ali.

After a moment of silence, she added, “But I do not want to get married. My fiancé had married twice in the past and has two kids. I do not like him at all. I want someone to help me escape this wedding.“

Uttarakhand-based Avdhash Kaushal, a Padmashree recipient, academician and activist, said, “There are around 5 lakh Van Gujjars across the country and around 1 lakh in Uttarakhand alone. Van Gujjars do not marry within the same gotras (clans) but it is mandatory for them to marry in the same community. There is always a fear looming among elders that they may not find grooms for their daughters if they get older. Hence they are married off early.“


May 7, 2022: The Times of India

New Delhi: Even as trends indicate a decline in early marriages, data released as part of the National Family Health Survey-5 (2019-21) draws attention to the fact that 25% women aged 18-29 and 15% of men aged 21-29 had married before reaching the legal minimum age of marriage, which is 18 years for women and 21 years for men.

However, trends show that early marriage has been declining over time with marriage before the legal age of 18 in the current survey at 23% for women between ages of 20-24, while the figure in NFHS-4 conducted in 2015-16 was 26. 8 per cent.

The data gains significance as the report yet again brings in focus the issue of underage marriage at a time government is planning to raise the age of marriage for girls from 18 to make it 21 years for both men and women. The draft bill to bring amendments to the law to enable increasing the age of marriage was referred by Lok Sabha in December to a parliamentary standing committee for scrutiny.

The NFHS data (2019-21) also shows that women having 12 or more years of schooling marry much later than other women. The median age at first marriage for women age 25-49 increased from 17. 1 years for women with no schooling to 22. 8 years for women with 12 or more years of schooling.

The data from states highlights that about two-fifths of women were married before reaching the legal minimum age at marriage in West Bengal (42%), Bihar (40%), and Tripura (39%). About onethird of them tied the knot before reaching the legal age of marriage in Jharkhand (35%) and Andhra Pradesh (33%). The percentage of women marrying before reaching the legal age of marriage is lowest in Lakshadweep (4%) followed by Jammu & Kashmir, and Ladakh (6% each); Himachal Pradesh, Goa, and Nagaland (7% each), and Kerala and Puducherry (8% each).

The report further indicates men tend to marry considerably later than women in India. The median age at first marriage is 19. 2 years among women aged 20-49 and 24. 9 years among men age 25-49. It also comes through that urban women marry later than rural women.

Prohibition of Child Marriage Act

Tough to fix age of marriage for girls: Apex court

Says SC, Upholds High Courts’ Judgments Validating Marriage Of Minors Dhananjay Mahapatra TNN The Times of India 2013/07/25

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday said it was difficult to arrive at a straightjacket formula on the marriageable age of girls to fit every case.

Commenting on identical verdicts by Delhi and Andhra Pradesh high courts which had allowed underage girls to marry their lovers, a bench of Justices J S Khehar and Dipak Misra said, “We do not find anything wrong in the two cases decided by the high courts... The parties have remained together. The families have remained united.”

Eight years ago, two high courts allowed minor girls to marry after they acknowledged that they had eloped voluntarily with their beaux, leading the National Commission for Women to rush to the Supreme Court expressing fear that this would legitimize marriage of minors — an offence under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act.

Wide disparity in laws about marriageable age of girls

The NCW had said that given the wide disparity in various laws on the issue of marriageable age of girls, there was an urgent need to bring uniformity by addressing the question: “what is the correct statutory age for a girl to wed”.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday said it was difficult to arrive at a straightjacket formula on marriageable age of girls to fit every case. “We do not find anything wrong in the two cases decided by the high courts,” a bench of Justices J S Khehar and Dipak Misra said.

Delhi high court/ 2005; Andhra Pradesh high court/ 2006

The Delhi high court on October 5, 2005 and the Andhra Pradesh high court on February 1, 2006 had allowed underage girls to marry their lovers after dropping kidnapping charges registered against the men by police.

While assuring those whose marriages were held valid by the HCs not to worry and carry on with their lives, the SC in 2006 asked all courts not to draw inspiration from these two HC orders.

All cases need not fit the same formula

The bench of Justices Khehar and Misra said on Wednesday, “How can we say all cases must fit to the same formula? As long as there is no extraneous consideration, coercion, malice, misuse or assault, the HCs were perfectly placed to pass these orders. The parties have remained together. The families have remained united.”

In conflict with Prohibition of Child Marriage Act?

NCW counsel Aparna Bhat said there were laws in conflict with “secular laws like Prohibition of Child Marriage Act and permitted underage girls to marry” and requested the court to find an answer.

The bench said, “The two cases dealt by the high courts were not those where the girls were lured away or enticed. Can we pass an order annulling the marriage now? Have the girls who have now become adults given a statement contrary to what they had told the HCs then? As far as uniformity of marriageable age is concerned, the NCW must approach the appropriate authority. Who are we to bring in uniformity.”

The bench added NCW should register its protest when taking up cases where it finds the women were harassed, coerced or misused.

Issue of uniformity kept open

The court disposed of NCW’s appeals filed against the two HC judgments but kept open NCW’s plea for bringing in uniformity in legislations on marriageable age of girls.

It gave eight weeks to NCW and additional solicitor general Indira Jaising to hold consultations with stakeholders and report back to the court.

Court judgements

Make child marriages void: SC, 2017

Amit Anand Choudhary, Make child marriages void: Court, Oct 12, 2017: The Times of India

Terming child marriage a social evil that endangers the life and health of the girl child, the Supreme Court on Friday said such marriages should be declared void and stringent punishment prescribed for those who promote and such practices.

Although the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA) bars child marriages, these are held to be valid unless challenged by the minor, virtually giving legal approval to the institution of child marriage till its validity is challenged.

Only Karnataka has amended the Act and declared any marriage of a child, a female aged below 18 years and a male below 21 years, as void. Favouring amendment in the law to declare child marriage illegal, a bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta said that other states must follow Karnataka's example.

SC also suggested that penal provisions should be made stringent to punish members of a family who force a child into a matrimonial alliance. It said the punishment under PCMA was not sufficiently punitive and observed that PCMA was being misused as women promoting child marriages were kept out of the penal provision.

Impact of 2017 Consent judgement on Rajasthan

Himanshi Dhawan, Rajasthan's girls stare at a hopeless future, October 12, 2017: The Times of India

Men married before 21 years of age and women marries before 18 years of age, 2011; Marriages in 10-14 age group
From: Himanshi Dhawan, Rajasthan's girls stare at a hopeless future, October 12, 2017: The Times of India

Reema Bairwal's (name changed) face is covered in a heavy green veil.Married last year, when she finished school, the 17-year-old lives in Sohela village in Rajasthan's Tonk district. “I wanted to study . Now my day is spent doing housework. I can't go out or meet anyone without permission,“ she says.

The Supreme Court criminalised sex with a minor wife. For young brides like Reema, the law provides for annulment of marriage and now even the right to file charges of rape against a husband for forced intercourse, but activists say young girls, often poor and illiterate, have no means or awareness to do this.

Neha (name changed), who was married last year as soon as she turned 16, seems resigned. “My parents did not have the money for a separate wedding so they married off my sister and me at the same time,“ she says.

When is she expected to go to her husband's house? “Soon,“ she says, hinting the consummation of marriage could happen anytime. She wasn't forced into the marriage but her vacant eyes reveal the hopelessness with which she views her future.

The 2011 Census by National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and Young Lives, an NGO, shows that 69.5 lakh boys and 51.6 lakh girls have been married before the legal age of 18 and 21 years, respectively. Rajasthan has the highest percentage of child marriages among girls (2.5) and boys (4.69).

Marriage valid if minor doesn’t declare it void as adult: HC, 2021

Ajay Sura, Sep 20, 2021: The Times of India

Marriage valid if minor doesn’t declare it void as adult: HC

The Punjab and Haryana HC has ruled that a girl married off before the age of 18 can seek separation only through a decree of divorce if she did not declare the marriage void on attaining the age of majority, reports Ajay Sura. It issued the order while setting aside a Ludhiana family court’s refusal to grant divorce by mutual consent to a couple who had got married when the wife was a minor. The family court had ruled that couple’s marriage wasn’t valid in the first place as the wife was younger than 18 at the time of nuptials. “Since the respondent wife was 17 years, 6 months and 8 days old at the time of marriage, and for all intents and purposes no petition was filed for declaration of her marriage as void by the wife, the petition for divorce... should have been allowed,” the HC said.

Courts’ power to fix age of marriage

SC, 2023: Parliament and state assemblies should decide

Dhananjay Mahapatra, February 21, 2023: The Times of India

New Delhi : After decades of judicial activism to protect women rights starting with Vishaka case on sexual harassment at workplace, the Supreme Court toned down its judicial activism and refused to take up a petition seeking uniform marriageable age for men and women, which now is pegged at 21 and 18 years respectively. 
Abench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, and Justices P S Narasimha and J B Pardiwala, while dealing with Ashwini Upadhyay’s petition which was transferred to SC from the Delhi HC, asked, “Can we strike down marriageable age of 18 years as arbitrary? If we strike it down women and girls of any age can get married as the Supreme Court cannot legislate to fix 21 years as their marriageableage. ”

“These are matters we must leave to the wisdom of Parliament, assemblies, and the governments. We are not exclusive custodians of the Constitution. Uniform marriage age for men and women, howsoever desirable, must be left to the legislature and the government. Neither can the Supreme Court issue a direction to Parliament, nor can it legislate,” the CJI-led bench said.

Interestingly, the SC had invoked void in legislation to lay down a detailed 12-point guidelines to deal with sexual harassment of women at workplace in its Vishaka judgment in 1997. The SC had said: “We direct that the above guidelines and norms would be strictly observed in all workplaces for the preservation and enforcement of the right to gender equality of the working women. These directions would be binding and enforceable in law until suita-ble legislation is enacted to occupy the field. ”

Similarly, though Medical Termination of Pregnancy permits termination of a 20week-old fetus, extendable to 24-weeks pregnancy if two experts opined safety of mother, the SC and the HCs have been repeatedly allowing termination of more than 24 week pregnancies. The SC had allowed entry of women in the age group of 10-50 years into Sabarimala temple, but has hedged the issue relating to entry of Muslim women into mosques fornamaz.

When the SC refused to budge from its stand not to entertain Upadhyay’s PIL, the advocate-turned serial PIL litigant gave vent to his frustration —“It would have been better to keep the petition in Delhi HC for adjudication. What is the purpose in transferring it to SC and then dismissing it. ”

However, the SC agreed to consider a petition by Chetna Welfare Society, which sought a new ground for divorce — irretrievable breakdown of marriage. The bench asked the Centre to file a response in four weeks.

Penalties for child marriages

MP, 2018: 2 men denied govt jobs, move SC

Dhananjay Mahapatra, Child marriage: Denied govt job, 2 men move SC, November 14, 2018: The Times of India

Court Issues Notice To MP, Seeks Reply

Two men have knocked the doors of the Supreme Court after their applications for jobs with the Madhya Pradesh government were rejected under Junior Civil Services Recruitment Rules because their parents got them married before they attained the legally permissible marriageable age of 21 years.

After their advocate Neelam Gokhale termed the rule discriminatory and said the two men otherwise met the eligibility criteria, the bench issued notice to the Madhya Pradesh government and sought its response in four weeks.

The two men, one married off at the age of 15 years and 10 months in May 1990 and the other at the age of 18 years and 11 months in June 1996, are working as patwaris in the state and wanted to apply for the post of ‘naib tehsildar’ in pursuance to an advertisement issued by the state government.

“However, their applications were rejected by the online portal on account that the age of the petitioners at the time of marriage was below the legally prescribed age and, hence, they were barred from public employment,”Gokhale said.

In the appeal, the petitioners said the SC had entertained a petition in 2012 by one Ratnarashi Pandey, who had challenged the validity of Rule 5 of MP Civil Services (General Conditions of Service) Rules which said that no candidate would be eligible for appointment in any service or post if s/he had married before the permissible age.

During pendency of Pandey’s petition, the state government had deleted the clause prohibiting employment of those who had married before attaining the legally permissible age. However, it was kept alive in the 2011 Rules for recruitment of junior civil servants.

See also

Age of consent in India

Age of marriage: India

Child marriage: India

Premarital sex

Rapes in India

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