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Mrunal Manmay Dash

The Odisha State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (OSCPCR), Chairperson, Sandhyabati Pradhan’s letter to the Centre opposing the latter’s decision to increase the minimum legal age for marriage of girls from 18 to 21 years, has triggered a debate in the State.

Pradhan, in her letter to Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, the Chairperson of Parliament Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth & Sports, cited that while a girl can have consensual sex at the age of 18, but she cannot marry till 21. This will increase the number of unwed mothers in the country.

The OSCPCR chief further said, "Change of legislation in isolation will never be able to stop child marriage, unless there is socio-behavioural change among the parents and community. Factors like distress and poverty, patriarchal norms and practices, lack of opportunity for schooling, employment and the like are still contributing in a large extent in the prevalence of child marriage."

She even went on to advocate bringing down the marriageable age of boys to 18.

While social workers and parents have welcomed Centre’s move, the Odisha government’s letter opposing the decision has raised many eyebrows.

Speaking to OTV, social worker, Namrata Chadda said, “Unwed motherhood is a different issue altogether. There are unwed mothers in 14-15 years age group. That does not mean we will bring down the marriageable age of our daughters to 14.”

“If a girl can cast her vote only after 21 years, why doesn’t he have the same right for marriage? Similarly, if a boy can pursue his career without marriage for 21 years, why can’t a girl be allowed to do so?” asked Chadda.

Similarly, a parent in Cuttack, Kiranbala Mohanty said, “A girl gets more mature at the age of 21. She understands the social fabric and marriage as an institution better as she matures into a woman.”

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