Hyderabad, Dec (IANS) AIMIM President Asaduddin Owaisi has criticised the decision of Narendra Modi government to raise the minimum age of marriage for women from 18 to 21, terming it "ridiculous".
The Hyderabad MP said both men and women should be allowed to legally marry at 18 as they are treated as adults by the law for all other purposes.
"This is typical paternalism that we have come to expect from the govt. 18 year old men & women can sign contracts, start businesses, choose Prime Ministers & elect MPs & MLAs but not marry," he said in a tweet.
"They can consent to sexual relationships and live-in partnerships but cannot choose their life partners? Just ridiculous", he added.
The proposal to raise the minimum age of marriage for women was cleared by the Union Cabinet on Wednesday. The government said the move was to save women from malnutrition.
Owaisi said: "If Modi was sincere, he would have focused on increasing economic opportunities for women. Yet India is the only country where women's participation in workforce is dwindling. It fell to 16 per cent in 2020 from 26 per cent in 2005."
"Men & women are treated as adults at 18 for most critical things. Why is marriage any different? The legal age is not really a criteria; the essential goal must be to ensure education, economic progress & human development."
He pointed out that in many US states, marriage age is as low as 14. In UK and Canada, it is 16. In New Zealand, 16-19 year olds can marry with parental consent. These nations improved human development of young people so that they can take informed decisions rather than fixing arbitrary age restrictions, he said.
"In contrast, Modi govt acts like a Mohalla Uncle. Deciding what we eat, who/when we marry, what God we worship, etc. Ironically, govt proposes 18 as age of consent in Data Bill. If 18-year olds can choose how their data is used, why can't they choose their life partners," he asked.
The Lok Sabha member pointed out that child marriages are rampant in the country despite a law. "Every fourth woman in India was married before turning 18 but only 785 criminal cases of child marriages were recorded. If child marriages have reduced from before, it's due to education & economic progress, not criminal law."
"There are 12m kids married before they even turned 10. 84 per cent of these are from Hindu families & only 11 per cent are Muslim. This clearly points to the fact that social reform and government initiatives in education & human development are critical to preventing child marriages," Owaisi wrote.
"More than legal age of marriage, it is improved education & better economic prospects for youngsters, that impacts when they marry. 45 per cent of poorest households had child marriages; only 10 per cent of wealthiest households did so," he added.
Owaisi said that it's essential to improve the educational status of women to ensure autonomous decision-making. "What has the government done to improve education for girls," he said and alleged that 79 per cent of Rs.446.72 crore Beti Bachao Beti Padhao budget was spent on advertisements.
The MP said the Supreme Court recognised the right to privacy as a fundamental right for adults. "The autonomy to take decisions concerning oneself are critical to this fundamental right. This includes the right to choose a partner & the right to decide if/when to have children."
"It's time to stop thinking of young people as children in perpetuity. They should be allowed the space to think & decide for themselves. This is also why I've proposed a private members' bill that will allow 20 year olds to become MPs & MLAs," Owaisi added.