Lok Sabha MP Asaduddin Owaisi took to Twitter on Friday to criticise the central government’s move to raise the legal minimum age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years. He referred to the development as an example of the “typical paternalism we have come to expect from the government” and said the Modi-led government acts like a “mohalla [neighbourhood] uncle”.

“Modi government acts like a mohalla uncle - deciding what we eat, who/when we marry, what God we worship, etc,” Asaduddin Owaisi, chief of the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen, tweeted on Friday.

On Wednesday, the Union Cabinet had approved the proposal to increase the minimum age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years. At present, the minimum age of marriage for men is 21 and for women is 18. The bill is yet to be passed in Parliament.

Arguing against the move to increase the minimum age of marriage for women, Asaduddin Owaisi said, “18-year-old men and women can sign contracts, start businesses, choose prime ministers and elect MPs and MLAs but not marry? They can consent to sexual relationships and live-in partnerships but cannot choose their life partners? Just ridiculous.”

He said that both men and women should be allowed to legally marry at the age of 18 since they are treated as adults by the law for all other purposes at that age.

Further, Owaisi said that child marriage in India is rampant despite the minimum age of marriage for women being 18 years. He stated that the law had not succeeded in putting an end to the practice. Instead,

education and economic progress are what is needed, he said.

“Child marriages are rampant despite a law. Every fourth woman in India was married before turning 18 but only 785 criminal cases of child marriage were recorded. If child marriages have reduced from before, it’s due to education and economic progress, not criminal law,” Owaisi said.

He added, “There are 12 million kids who were married before they even turned ten. 84% of these are from Hindu families and only 11% are Muslim.”

According to Owaisi, improved education and better economic prospects play a greater role in influencing when an individual will get married, as compared to the legal age implemented by the government.

Owaisi tweeted, “45% of the poorest households had child marriages, while only 10% of the wealthiest households did.”

“If Modi was sincere, he would have focused on increasing economic opportunities for women. Yet, India is the only country where women’s participation in workforce is dwindling. It fell to 16% in 2020 from 26% in 2005,” he said.

The MP said that government initiatives in education and human development are critical to preventing child marriages and empowering women so they can make autonomous decisions.

“What has the government done to improve education for girls? 79% of the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao budget was spent on adverts. You want us to believe that this government has sincere intentions?” he asked.

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