Marriage is not about age; it is about finding the right person.
– Sophia Bush (b 1982), an American actress, activist, director and producer
In India, the minimum age for marriage is 21 years for boys and 18 for girls. In over 116 countries, their laws allow people under the age of 18 to marry, subject to various conditions. India has had a long history of child marriages. It appears from media reports that there has been a spurt in illegal child marriages under the current COVID-19 pandemic. Historically, in extreme cases, when a female child was born and still in the cradle, a male child was ‘married’ to her and the actual marriage took place as they grew up.
Now, especially in the urban school/college set-up, there is puppy love which in most cases runs through a violent course and often fades away. Newspapers and magazines run agony aunt/uncle columns offering solutions for missteps in the progress of their relationship or upsets in the course of the relationship. Such youngsters advocate or hope for a reduction in legal marriage age and also for a uniform minimum in the marriageable age for both sexes. They argue that urban, well-to-do children are well-nourished and enter child-bearing age quite early and they cannot sustain their puppy-love status for extended periods.
A new factor has now entered the scene. Some tribal communities in Mysuru region are currently fighting for reducing marriageable age to 18 for boys and 16 for girls. They argue that their normal span of life is not around 80 years as in the case of advanced communities in towns and cities, but around 60 years. In the normal course, without adhering to the legal minimum age, the girls and boys marry while they are still below the official bar and become grandparents when they reach around 40 years of age. So, this demand for reduction in marriageable age for tribals is based on the overall reduction in their life-span compared to the rest of the population. One can, of course, argue that the government should work to raise the life-span of tribals.