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India to raise marriage age for women from 18 to 21

In India, the government has proposed legislation to raise the minimum age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years old, bringing it on par with that for men and saying it will empower women. But many women activists say the proposal would do little to address deep-seated societal problems that result in millions of young girls being married at an age even younger than 18.

“We are doing this so that they can have time to study and progress. The country is taking this decision for its daughters,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said after The Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill was introduced in parliament Tuesday. The action comes more than a year after he said, during an Independence Day speech, that the government is considering raising the legal age of marriage for women.

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The government says the aim is to provide equal opportunity to women by giving them more time to complete their education, access employment opportunities, attain psychological maturity before marriage and ensure gender parity.

“In a democracy, we are 75 years late in providing equal rights to men and women to enter into matrimony,” Smriti Irani, minister of women and child development, said in parliament Tuesday.

The proposed law would mark a major change for women in a country where, according to several estimates, about 50% marry before turning 21.

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