Taskforce to recommend raising woman’s marriageable age

Maitri Porecha New Delhi | Updated on February 01, 2020

The government has shown intent about improving the national nutritional status of women, children between 0 and 6 years, lactating mothers, adolescent girls   -  THE HINDU

To submit report within six months on Sharda Act which fixes a girl’s legal age to marry at 18 years

Early marriage directly impacts a girl’s health, and in the light of this there needs to be a reconsideration to legally delay a girl’s age of marriage. Keeping in mind the fact that deaths of mothers during childbirth needs to be lowered, it has been proposed in the Budget to appoint a taskforce for giving recommendations in six months’ time for possibly considering to amend a woman’s age of marriage upwards from the current 18 years.

In 1978, the Sharda Act of 1929 was amended to increase the marriageable age of a woman from 15 to 18 years. Experts, since long, have mooted for the legal age of a woman to marry be fixed at 20 onwards, as it provides them more incentives to complete their graduation.

While Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, has yielded tremendous results and that gross enrolment ratio of girls across all levels of education is now higher than boys, funds for the scheme have been slashed by ₹60 crore in 2020-21 (₹220 crore) as compared to an allocation of ₹280 crore in 2019-20.

“With the proposed taskforce for recommending the age of girls entering motherhood, the government has shown intent about improving the national nutritional status of women, children of age group between 0 and 6 years, lactating mothers, adolescent girls,” said Chandrakant Pandav, Member of the National Council on India Nutrition Challenges, POSHAN Abhiyan.

Tackling malnutrition

Sitharaman has also announced an outlay of ₹36,500 crore for nutrition-related schemes. “It will be interesting to understand how the funds will to be distributed to focus on the ‘hot spots’ of malnutrition and the urban poor where malnutrition rates are rising. While delaying age of marriage and conception in the rural communities is critical link for mitigating malnutrition, it should be effectively linked with ‘Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao’ and women’s safety issues,” said Raj Bhandari, Independent Health and Nutrition Expert.

While the outlay has increased, analysis by Accountability Initiative shows that utilisation of POSHAN Abhiyan funds remains low, though ₹3,699 crore was allocated to the scheme in 2019-20.

“Only 34 per cent of funds released were spent over a cumulative period from FY 2017-18 to FY 2019-20 till November 30,” the analysis stated. Uptake by States has been slow. For example, while Uttar Pradesh had the highest number of districts to be covered, and most were covered in the first year of implementation, release of funds was relatively low with only 9 per cent (₹380 crore) of total central release till November 2019, earmarked for the State.

Mrudula Phadke, Senior Advisor, National Rural Health Mission in UNICEF, stated, “It is good that more budget is given to nutrition schemes. However, one has to consider inflation and cost of healthy dietetic items to harvest right benefits. Severe acute malnourishment is a composite issue. Severely malnourished children need energy-dense nutritious therapeutic food. Also, it is crucial to pay salary of health workers with consistency otherwise mere provision of funds may not give dividends. Nutrition, WASH and immunisation all need well-devised schemes.”

Published on February 01, 2020

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