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Only 1 Woman MP Among 31 Members of Panel to Review Women's Marriage Age Law

"I wish there were more women MPs in the committee but, having said that, we will make sure all interest groups are heard," said TMC's Sushmita Dev.

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New Delhi: The parliamentary panel assigned to examine the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, which seeks to raise the legal age for women to marry from 18 to 21, has only one woman MP out of its 31 members.

The Bill, which will have far-reaching effects on society, especially women, was introduced in the Lok Sabha during the winter session and was subsequently referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth and Sports in light of objections from various corners.

The legislation was piloted by the Women and Child Development Ministry and seeks to increase the minimum legal age for women to marry from 18 to 21, bringing it at par with the law for men.

According to the members’ list of the parliamentary standing committee, led by senior BJP leader Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, TMC MP Sushmita Dev is the only woman among the 31 members.

“I wish there were more women MPs in the committee but, having said that, we will make sure all interest groups are heard,” Dev told news agency PTI.

Similarly, NCP MP Supriya Sule said there should have been more women MPs in the panel which will deliberate on issues related to women.

However, she added that the chairman has the power to invite people before the panel. So for more inclusive and wider discussions, he can invite other women MPs.

Also read: Here’s Why the Move to Increase Women’s Age of Marriage Is a Red Herring

Department-related Standing Committees are permanent, while joint and select committees are constituted from time to time to deal with bills and relevant subjects of various ministries.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth and Sports is a Rajya Sabha administered Committee and includes ten MPs from the upper house and 21 from the lower house.

Various parties nominate members to these committees based on their strength in the house.

The proposed law will apply to all communities in the country and, once enacted, will supersede existing marriage and personal laws. It seeks to amend seven personal laws the Indian Christian Marriage Act; the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act; the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act; the Special Marriage Act; the Hindu Marriage Act; and the Foreign Marriage Act.

The Bill was brought in on the basis of recommendations made by a ten-member committee with former Samat Party leader Jaya Jaitly at the helm mandated with bringing down the maternal mortality rate (MMR) and improving nutritional levels and related issues. One motivating factor behind the decision, according to Jaitly herself, was to bring about equality between men and women vis-a-vis marriage age. Another was the high figures of child marriages and infant mortality in the country which Jaitly believes have a “direct cause and effect linkage” with the marriage age. She believes that nutritional outcomes of children can be improved by pushing the marriage age of women back.

Also read: ‘We Were Progressive In Our Thinking’: Jaya Jaitly Takes On Women’s Marriage Age Move Criticisms

Child and women’s rights activists, however, feel that the Bill fails to address the actual causes of the problems women face in terms of nutritional outcomes, high rates of child marriage and the like and that the government is missing the opportunity to affect meaningful change. Some activists feel that the reforms may actually harm women and that the government, instead, should focus on expanding educational and employment opportunities to women.

The introduction of the Bill was also opposed by some MPs who contended that the move infringed upon several personal laws, in violation of fundamental rights and demanded that it be referred to a parliamentary panel for greater scrutiny.

With PTI inputs.