The Law Commission today suggested that 18 years should be the minimum legal age for men and women alike to get married, saying the insistence on recognising different ages of marriage between consenting adults must be abolished.
In its consultation paper on 'Reform of Family Law', the panel also said "if a universal age for majority is recognised, and that grants all citizens the right to choose their governments, surely, they must then be also considered capable of choosing their spouses".
The age of majority, 18 years, must be recognised uniformly as the legal age for marriage for men and women alike as per Indian Majority Act, 1875.
"The difference in age for husband and wife has no basis in law as spouses entering into a marriage are by all means equals and their partnership must also be of that between equals," the paper said.
The law panel was of the view that maintaining the difference of 18 years for women and 21 years for men "simply contributes to the stereotype that wives must be younger than their husbands".
The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013 -- enacted after what is popularly called the 'Nirbhaya case' -- now deems any intercourse under the age of 18 years as rape, it pointed out.
"The law in such cases needs to duly consider whether criminalising all intercourse, even between the ages of sixteen-eighteen after the 2013 amendment may also have the consequence of criminalising consensual intercourse.
"The end goal of any legislative endeavour for empowerment of women or gender justice should prioritise autonomy of women," the document said.
Instead of a full-fledged report on a uniform civil code, the law panel preferred a consultation paper as it had little time at hand to bring out a comprehensive report.
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