Context: Increasing the legal age for the marriage of women has enormous benefits on social and economic fronts according to the research note by SBI Ecowrap released recently.

Few women-oriented statistics noted by Report 

  • Maternal mortality ratio:
    • India's maternal mortality ratio has improved to 113 in 2016-18 from 130 in 2014-2016.
    • But, it is still far below the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals target of 70 per 1,00,000 live births.
    • Regional disparities: Out of 19 major states, seven states have maternal mortality rate higher than the national average and the number stands at six and 11 respectively in case of infant mortality rate and stillbirth rate.
  • Anemia: Anemia is present amongst 51.4 percent of women of reproductive age, as against the world average of 32.8 percent in India.
  • Marriage age: 
    • Nearly 35 percent of females in India are married before the age of 21 years. 
    • The situation is grave in some states. The situation in West Bengal is currently the worst across all states with the mean marriage age only 20.9 years and almost 47 percent of females getting married before the age of 21 years, even worse than Bihar and Rajasthan.

Key findings of the report:

  • Pushing the mean marriage age higher:
    • According to the report, increasing the marriage age will push the mean marriage age higher and will lead to more females doing graduation and hence improving the female labor force participation ratio. 
    • The report noted that the mean marriage age in India is already at 22.3 years and an increase in marriage age will be notional in nature.
    • As per its estimations, the percentage of females doing graduation will increase by at least 5-7 percentage points from the current level of 9.8 percent.
  • Impact on the social Front:
    • On the social front, this will lead to social benefits like lowering the Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) as well as the improvement of nutrition levels.
    • The report said both men and women will gain economically and socially by marrying when they are more than the legal age, but added that the urge of the women is much higher as they always get a higher payoff by becoming financially empowered to take decisions.
    • Early marriages have an adverse impact on the health of mothers as well as children. If we look at the data on maternal deaths, it shows that the maximum proportion of maternal deaths occur in the lower age bracket
  • Impact on the economic front:
    • While on the financial front opportunities will be opened up for women to pursue higher education and careers and become financially empowered, thus resulting in a more egalitarian society in thinking.

The report said it was recently reiterated signaling a possibility of the legal age of marriage for women to be raised from 18 soon and welcomes any such decision.

Maternal Mortality Ratio(MMR)

  • It is one of the key indicators of maternal mortality. It is defined as the number of maternal deaths per 1,00,000 live births.
  • The target 3.1 of UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) aims to reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 1,00,000 live births.

Maternal mortality

  • Maternal mortality in a region is a measure of the reproductive health of women in the area.
  • As per the World Health Organization, maternal death is the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management.

Few suggestions for improving the conditions of women

  • Delay the age of conception: 
    • Along with increasing the age of marriage, efforts need to be directed to delay the age of conception. 
    • Schemes such as universal registration of marriage could prove to be vital in providing newly married couples with timely information on family planning and family care. 
    • In addition, if the registration is linked with Aadhaar, it can facilitate support for women to enter pregnancy well-nourished and at the right time.
  • Recognize the diversities in society
    • According to the 1978 amendment of the Child Marriage Restraint Act, and Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, the minimum age of marriage is 18 years for girls and 21 years for boys. 
    • The Task Force responsible for reviewing the age of marriage should recognize the diversities that may hamper its implementation. 
  • Keeping the girls in school for longer:
    • Ensuring delayed marriage and pregnancy depends not just on the legal age but requires concerted efforts to keep girls in school for longer.
    • This also needs to be complemented by enabling them to complete higher education or vocational training.
    • The community often will find it difficult to adhere to the legal age unless an opportunity is provided and incentives built-in for a girl to have access to completing secondary school education.

Source: ET