1. Govt. may review the age of marriage: PM
Effort to prevent malnutrition among women
- The government may take a relook at the age of marriage of women in its bid to fight malnutrition, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in his Independence Day speech.
- “We have formed a committee to ensure that daughters no longer suffer from malnutrition and they are married off at the right age. As soon as the report is submitted, appropriate decisions will be taken about the age of marriage of daughters,” he said.
- This follows from Nirmala Sitharaman’s Budget Speech on February 1, 2020, when a task force was proposed to look into the “age of a girl entering motherhood” in order to lower maternal mortality rates and improve nutrition levels.
- In June, the government announced a 10-member panel headed by Jaya Jaitly and comprising Secretaries from the Ministries of Human Resource Development, Women and Child Development, and Health and Family Welfare, among others. The committee has missed its July 31 deadline to finalise its report and give recommendations.
- “This is a really important direction and a welcome recognition at the highest levels in the government about the links between the health of mothers and babies when a girl is married too early and has a child before the age of 20 years.
- The challenges are not straightforward though as reasons for early marriage vary across the country,” says Purnima Menon, senior research fellow, at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
Stunting in children
- A study conducted by IFPRI and published last year in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health showed that children born to adolescent mothers (10-19 years) were 5 percentage points more likely to be stunted (shorter for their age) than those born to young adults (20-24 years), and 11 percentage points more stunted than children born to adult mothers. Children born to adolescent mothers also had 10 percentage points higher prevalence of low weight as adult mothers. It also highlighted other factors, such as lower education among teenage mothers and their poor economic status, which had the strongest links with a child’s height and weight measurements. It recommended that “increasing age at first marriage, age at first birth, and girl’s education are a promising approach to also improve maternal and child nutrition”.
- However, activists appealed that the issue must be addressed by empowering girls as poverty and lack of safety are the main drivers of early marriage.
- Focus on empowerment
- The National Coalition Advocating for Adolescent Concerns on behalf of 21 NGOs in its submission to the Task Force last month asserted that increasing the legal age of marriage for girls will only “artificially expand the numbers of married persons deemed underage and criminalise them and render underage married girls without legal protection. Instead, transformative, well resourced measures that increase girls’ access to education and health, create enabling opportunities and place girl’s empowerment at the centre will not just delay marriage but lead to a long term, positive health and education outcomes”.
- It also underlined that the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 instead of curbing child marriages, has only played as a weapon in the hands of parents to punish their daughters for elopement and is used in conjunction with other laws to punish boys in self-arranged marriages.
- It has called for the need for awareness about safe sex, access to reproductive health information, improving access to education, and retaining girls in the education system so that they are able to transition from elementary to secondary education, and beyond which can then delay marriage.
- “While legal enactment to prevent child marriages is necessary, we must simultaneously work towards keeping girls in school, invest in economic and social empowerment of women and girls, as well as targeted social and behaviour change communication (SBCC) campaigns to put an end to this harmful practice,” said Poonam Muttreja of the Population Foundation of India.
2. How will the Israel-UAE pact impact the Gulf?
Will the diplomatic breakthrough sharpen divisions in the region even further? How will it affect Palestine, Turkey and Iran?
The story so far: On Thursday, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had reached a peace agreement. He tweeted a joint statement issued by the UAE, Israel and the U.S., and called the deal a “historic breakthrough” in Arab-Israel relations. Many countries, including the European powers and India, have welcomed it, while the Palestinian leadership as well as Turkey and Iran have lashed out at the UAE.
What does the deal say?
- According to the joint statement, the UAE and Israel would establish formal diplomatic relations and in exchange, Israel would suspend its plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had earlier vowed to annex the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The Trump administration, as part of the President’s peace plan announced in January, had backed the annexation plan despite international criticism. But now, as part of the agreement, Israel “will suspend declaring sovereignty over areas” of the West Bank and “focus its efforts on expanding ties with other countries in the Arab and Muslim world”. The statement also said delegations from Israel and the UAE would meet in the coming weeks to sign bilateral agreements regarding “investment, tourism, direct flights, security, telecommunications, technology, energy, healthcare, culture, the environment, the establishment of reciprocal embassies, and other areas of mutual benefit”.
How significant is the deal for Arab-Israeli relations?
- It’s a landmark agreement given that the UAE is only the third Arab country and the first in the Gulf region to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. Arab-Israeli ties have historically been conflict-ridden. Arab countries, including Egypt, Transjordan, Syria and Iraq, fought their first war with Israel in 1948 after the formation of the state of Israel was announced. The war ended with Israel capturing more territories, including West Jerusalem, than what the UN Partition Plan originally proposed for a Jewish state. After that, Israel and Arab states fought three more major wars — the 1956 Suez conflict, the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War. After the 1967 war in which Israel captured the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt, East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria, Arab countries convened in Khartoum and declared their famous three “‘Nos’ — no peace with Israel, no talks with Israel and no recognition of Israel”. But it did not last long. After the death of Egypt President Gamal Abdel Nasser, his successor Anwar Sadat started making plans to get Sinai back from Israel. His efforts, coupled with American pressure on Israel, led to the Camp David Accords of 1978. A year later, Israel and Egypt concluded their peace treaty, as part of which Israel withdrew from Sinai in return for Egyptian recognition.
- In 1994, Jordan became the second Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel. In 1988, after an initial agreement reached between the two countries collapsed, Jordan abandoned its claims to the West Bank and said it would accept a deal between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel. Following the Oslo Accords, under which the PLO recognised Israel and was allowed to form the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza, time was ripe for an Israel-Jordan deal. The enmity between the two countries came to an end in July 1994 with the Washington Declaration on the White House lawn by Jordan’s King Hussein and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin under the watch of U.S. President Bill Clinton. The UAE-Israel agreement comes after 26 years. If more countries in the Gulf follow the UAE’s lead, it would open a new chapter in Arab-Israel ties.
Why did the UAE sign the agreement?
- The old enmity between Arab countries and Israel has dissipated. The Sunni Arab kingdoms in the Gulf region such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE had developed backroom contacts with Israel over the past several years. One of the major factors that brought them closer has been their shared antipathy towards Iran. Both these blocs were wary of U.S. President Barack Obama’s Iran outreach. When Mr. Trump became the President, his administration brought these two blocs of West Asia, both American allies, together. In February 2019, the U.S. brokered a security conference in Warsaw to build a global strategy against Iran. The meeting brought leaders from Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and several other countries. Following this conference, in August 2019, the U.S. arranged secret talks between the UAE and Israel. These meetings laid the foundations for the agreement.
- Arab countries have signalled that they are ready to live with Israel’s occupation of Palestine. What they do not want is a major change in the status quo which would put them under political and diplomatic pressure. Mr. Netanyahu’s plan to annex the West Bank would have drastically changed the status quo, further putting in peril the two-state solution. The UAE-Israel agreement has averted that outcome. It also allows Mr. Netanyahu to label the suspension of the annexation to his right-wing religious allies in the government as a victory. Further, this is an election year in the U.S. If a Democratic President comes to power and restores the Iran deal, both the Israeli and the Arab blocs in West Asia would come under pressure to live with an empowered Iran in what President Obama called “cold peace”. A formal agreement and enhanced security and economic ties make the Arab and Israeli sides better prepared to face such a situation. So there is a convergence of interests for the UAE, Israel and the U.S. to come together in the region.
Where does it leave the Palestinians?
- Unlike the past two Arab-Israeli peace agreements, Palestinians do not figure prominently in the current one. When Egypt and Israel made peace, the latter agreed to return the Sinai back to Egypt and signed “A Framework for Peace in the Middle East” agreement, which promised the establishment of an autonomous self-governing authority in the West Bank and Gaza and called for the full implementation of the UNSC Resolution 242 that demanded Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. The Jordanian-Israeli treaty came after Israel agreed to the formation of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza. But in the UAE-Israel deal, Israel has not made any actual concession to the Palestinians. The annexation plan was a threat. The withdrawal of the threat was packaged as a concession, which the Emiratis accepted. That is why Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “Who would have ever dreamed there would be a peace agreement with an Arab country without our returning to the 1967 borders?” The Palestinians are understandably upset. They called the UAE’s decision “treason”.
What are the geopolitical implications of the deal?
- The agreement could fast-track the changes that are already under way in the region. The Saudi bloc, consisting of Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain and others, see their interests being aligned with that of the U.S. and Israel and their support for Palestine, which Arab powers had historically upheld, is dwindling, while Turkey and Iran emerge as the strongest supporters of the Palestinians in the Muslim world. This tripolar contest is already at work in West Asia. The UAE-Israel thaw could sharpen it further.
3. The verdict on women’s right to property
What is coparcenary property? Does the Supreme Court of India ruling settle the issue of inheritance?
The story so far: On August 11, the Supreme Court of India held that daughters, like sons, have an equal right to inherit ancestral property. The legislation that conferred coparcenary status on women dates back to 2005, when the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 was amended. The verdict answers the question whether the coparcenary right of daughters comes into effect only if the father — through whom the right is claimed — was alive on the day the amendment came into force. The top court ruled that a daughter’s right flows from her birth and not by any other factor.
What is coparcenary property in Hindu law?
- A Hindu joint family consists of lineal descendants of a common ancestor. In other words, a male head and his descendants, including their wives and unmarried daughters. A coparcenary is a smaller unit of the family that jointly owns property. A coparcenary consists of a ‘propositus’, that is, a person at the top of a line of descent, and his three lineal descendants — sons, grandsons and great-grandsons. Coparcenary property is named thus because the co-ownership is marked by “unity of possession, title and interest”.
- The English term itself is borrowed from common law, but the concept is found in Hindu law. In the Mitakshara school, which prevails in most parts of India, a male’s right to be a coparcener is by birth. But if a newborn male is the fifth lineal descendant — that is a great-great-grandson, while the common ancestor, his son, grandson and great-grandson are alive — the right to be included in the coparcenary will ripen only when the common ancestor dies. In other words, a coparcenary has succession up to four degrees of lineal descent. It is believed that this is based on the Hindu tenet that only males up to three degrees can offer spiritual ministration to ancestors. And only males can be coparceners.
What was the traditional position and how was it changed by codified law?
- In Mitakshara law, on the death of a coparcener, his interest became merged with that of the surviving coparceners. Sons inherited property only by virtue of being or becoming coparceners. When the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, was enacted, this position was largely preserved by Section 6. It said that when a male Hindu died after the Act came into force, his interest in a Mitakshara coparcenary shall go to the surviving members of the coparcenary and not in accordance with the Act. However, a proviso was added to preserve the interest of female children. It said if the deceased left behind a Class I female relative (daughter, widow or mother, etc.) or a male relative claiming through such female kin, his interest would go to them by testamentary (by will) or intestate (without a will) succession, and not by survivorship.
- This meant that even the codified law did not address the conventional discrimination against women. Although by separate colonial-era laws, some limited rights of inheritance were conferred on daughters (in respect of intestate, non-coparcenary property in the Hindu Law of Inheritance (Amendment) Act, 1929) and widows (whose right to succeed to husband’s property was equated to that of the son in the Hindu Women’s Rights to Property Act, 1937), women were denied coparcenary status. These laws were repealed by the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.
What changes did the 2005 Amendment bring?
- In its statement of objects and reasons for the amendment, the Union government said the recognition given in the 1956 Act to the rule of devolution by survivorship and its retention of the Mitakshara coparcenary property without including women in it meant that women could not inherit ancestral property in the same way as men. It said: “The law by excluding the daughter from participating in the coparcenary ownership not only contributes to her discrimination on the ground of gender but also has led to oppression and negation of her fundamental right of equality guaranteed by the Constitution….”
- Therefore, it amended Section 6 to remove the discrimination and confer equal rights on daughters too. It declared that a coparcener’s daughter would become a coparcener in her own right by birth, in the same manner as a son; and would have the same rights that she would have, had she been a son. The amendment came into force on September 9, 2005, but it contained a proviso that it would not invalidate any disposition of property by partition or will that had taken place prior to December 20, 2004 — the day the amendment was introduced in the Rajya Sabha.
What is the verdict’s significance?
- As laws are generally deemed prospective, civil cases relating to coparcenary property threw up questions such as whether it would apply only to daughters born after September 9, 2005, or whether, if they were born before that, it would be limited to those whose father — the coparcener through whom they will inherit the status — was also alive on that day.
- Many courts took the view that only a living coparcener’s daughter would get the benefit of the new law. It was argued that if a man had died before 2005, his interest would not have passed on to his daughter, as the amendment was yet to come into force. Allowing coparcenary status to such women would imply that the amendment had retrospective effect.
- The Supreme Court in Prakash and Others vs. Phulavati (2015) ruled on these lines, holding that it had no retrospective effect, and only living daughters of living coparceners (as on the date of its coming into effect) would get its benefit. As another judgment took a different view, this was posted before a three-judge Bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra.
- Tuesday’s verdict has upheld the stand that coparcenary status of daughters is created by birth, and is not dependent on whether the father was alive or not on the date on which it came into force — a daughter has the same status as a son as soon as she is born. The significance of this verdict is that it has put an end to all doubts about when the amendment comes into force, and whether some women could be left out of it on the ground that it can only have prospective application.