The government’s claims that raising the age of marriage for girls in India from 18 to 21 is in the best interests of the girl child are not convincing, given that few concerns have been expressed about a host of other related health problems.
For example, the latest round of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5 for 2019-2020) tells us that anemia in children and adults, men and women, pregnant women as well as non-pregnant women, increased over the numbers recorded in NFHS-4 (2015-16). Consider that 57% of all Indian women aged 15-49 reported anemia in NFHS-5, over 53.1% reported anemia in NFHS-4. This raises questions about how and why the anemia has worsened over the years.
Several other indicators have improved, but all is not well. The number of women in the 20-24 age group who married before the age of 18 increased from 26.8% (NFHS-4) to 23.3% (NFHS-5). But it also shows how much remains to be done to implement the legal requirement of the age of marriage to 18.
The proposal to raise the age to 21 now means the government is tackling more areas of regulation and policing. If all this development required was the passing of a law, then India would now be a developed country, given the plethora of laws that governments have enacted over the years.
Each of these laws has expanded the role of the state, and in a poor country like India, it has the downside of coercive state power wielded against the weaker class of citizens. Worse, there is already societal pressure in the area that restricts freedom and prevents young girls and boys from discovering life on their own, involving aspects of moral policing and state intervention under the pretext or another.
Even in a city like Mumbai, people raised objections, the police intervened, and some sort of campaign was carried out to prevent the couples from spending time together. People visiting a quiet, green place have come up against moral vigilantes. This happened in popular public places like Marine Drive in southern Mumbai, where police were called to clear the promenade. Colleges don’t like to hold hands, parks often offer trouble rather than tranquility for young couples, and many parents are still uncomfortable if boys and girls spend time socializing, even in the dark. larger groups.