The Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill introduced in Parliament in the winter session sought to increase the legal age of marriage from 18 to 21 for women in the country. This Bill was based on the recommendation of a 10-member task force led by former Samata Party leader Jaya Jaitly to look into the feasibility of raising the legal marriage age so that young women can have increased access to education, and to improve the infant mortality rate (IMR) and maternal mortality ratio (MMR). In December, in keeping with the government’s norm of bypassing standing committees or inviting comments from stakeholders, the Union Cabinet cleared the proposal to raise the minimum age of marriage for women and the Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha.
After the Opposition raised their voices against this, and considering the gravity of the amendment as it would override all personal laws related to marriage and have other implications on women, the Bill was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth, and Sports for further deliberation and discussion. Unfortunately, the referral seemed like an oversight by the Ministry since the committee has 31 MPs, of whom only one is a woman.
It is quite alarming to know that there is such skewed representation in a committee which will decide the fate of women of the country. This perhaps should also invite scrutiny on why and how issues related to education, sports, youth, women and children are an all-male preserve?
Parliamentary committees are meant to operate as ‘mini’ Parliaments : these committees examine any Bill referred to them clause by clause, invite experts, and stakeholders for their input, and then submit a report. Therefore, the importance of the committees and the discussions done by the members is paramount, even if the government of the day thinks otherwise. However, it was disheartening to note that a Bill concerning the issues of women, which will also impact families as a unit, was sent to a committee where there is an imbalance in representation. This Bill will have socio-cultural and economic consequences on the country and will affect the course of lives of women, especially in rural India where incidents of child marriage are more. Therefore, for deliberative discussions and consideration of perspective from all angles, it becomes pertinent that the committee does stakeholder-consultation at maximum capacity, ensuring inclusivity and representation of women at every level. The Chairman could also decide through the powers bestowed on him to invite women members to the existing committee, co-opt deliberations with the Women Empowerment Committee, or constitute a new select committee with adequate representation to review this Bill. Hence, my appeal to the Chairman through my letter to review the composition of the committee.
Lastly, any Bill that sounds progressive does not necessarily translate the same way in society; hence a wholesome Bill which truly serves for the good of the women of the country is important. We cannot pass Bills or drafts of them in a hurry only to repent at leisure. We owe progressive laws to the women of this country who have long been denied equal access to opportunities and resources. On account of the sensitivity of the Bill i, comprehensive dialogue and discussions are needed to empower the women of the country. Any deliberation done without adequate representation of the stakeholders will affect the lives of the many women who have placed their faith in their elected representatives and the legislative procedures of the country. So I am hoping that this very obvious skewed representation will lead to changes that are long overdue, including having women at the decision-making table.
(Priyanka Chaturvedi is Member of Rajya Sabha and Deputy Leader Shiv Sena.)
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