Suryakant Jena

The Odisha State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (OSCPCR) has opposed the Centre's decision to increase the minimum legal age of marriage for girls from 18 to 21 years. Instead, the rights body has recommended in favour of bringing down the minimum marriage age for men to 18.

Chairperson of OSCPCR, Sandhyabati Pradhan on Tuesday drew the attention of Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, the Chairperson of Parliament Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth & Sports, in this regard.

In her letter to Sahasrabuddhe, the OSCPCR chief 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."

The Juvenile Justice Care and Protection Act and schemes like Integrated Child Protection Scheme have the scope to extend support to such vulnerable children only up to the age of 18. In such circumstances, there will be no space to provide support to a child bride/groom in between the age of 19 to 21 if rescued from child marriage, Pradhan pointed out.

"Act like POCSO has restricted consensual sex up to the age of 18. This implies that someone may have sexual act after 18 but won't be able to marry till 21. This will create new sets of issues like increasing unwed mothers and foeticide thereafter," the Commission chief noted in her letter.

In the light of aforesaid facts in mind, Pradhan requested the Parliament Committee to consider not raising the legal age of marriage for girls to 21, rather keeping 18 as the minimum legal marriageable age for both boys and girls.

In addition to this, she further requested the Committee to consider recommending more accountability of the state towards building an enabling environment where the girls can dare to fulfil their desires which will build courage within them to say no to child marriage.

With Agency Inputs..