A minor girl was married off to a 28-year-old relative in Jangaon district, Telangana last month. The girl was rescued after the Women and Children’s Welfare department was tipped off while the man and his parents were arrested with the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act case registered against them.
Saving child brides: Efforts continue; still a long way to go
In certain communities, social customs require girls to be married once they attain puberty as parents under pressure of the community, marry off daughters in the belief that they are securing their future even to men who are in their 40s.
This false belief is taking a huge toll on girls in Telangana. All the districts in the state have the facility of Child Helpline but the people in rural areas still fear of calling and informing.
While the various government departments and helplines such as Childline, among others are stopping the child marriages, but the mindset of the people at large needs to change. Girls, instead of planning a bright future for themselves are subjected to child marriages and forced sexual relations which leave them scarred emotionally and physically for life.
Close to 200 child marriages were stopped in the Vikarabad district of Telangana in the last one year but there were 45 instances, the marriages couldn't be stopped. Also, a large number of married adolescents don’t come to the notice of the officials as most cases go unreported. Unfortunately, India holds the distinction of having the highest absolute number of child marriages across the world with 103 million child marriages, as per the report by Child Rights Focus, a knowledge initiative of ActionAid.
It has been more than a decade since Prohibition of Child Marriage Act-2006 came into existence (Fine of Rs 1 lakh and two years in prison for parents caught trying to marry off their underage children under the act) with the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 already in place previously. Regardless, child marriage remains deeply rooted and accepted in society.
Several NGOs are even undertaking campaigns urging for the legal age of marriage for girls from 18 to 21, reiterating the negative impact of child marriages.
Last year, the Karnataka government revised the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA) to make child marriage automatically void which means a female aged below 18 years and a male below 21 years is void ab initio.
Under the amendment, the husband of a girl child would be held accountable for punishment for child marriage; Under the POCSO Act, for penetrative sexual assault; and Under the IPC, for rape, if the husband is living with the girl child in the same household.
Expressing its dismay over the alarming numbers of 23 children child brides in the country, the Supreme Court also gave out its judgement criminalising sex with minor wives and recommended all the state legislatures to adopt the route to void child marriages. The top Court also conveyed concern over the health of a girl child bride who is more vulnerable to health issues than a grown-up woman.
A report from the World Health Organisation dealing with the issue of child brides, it was found that 11 percent of the births worldwide are among adolescents, accounting for 23 percent of the overall burden of diseases.
In Hyderabad, SHE teams were launched in 2014 to fight against the crimes against women and provide security to them. The SHE teams managed to stop 24 child marriages in the past year. After Hyderabad, SHE Teams have been formed in all districts of Telangana with a total of 100 teams working across the state. Six other states - Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha have also replicated the concept under different names.
According to the police, the child marriages are still taking place in rural areas of Telangana and they cited poverty and lack of awareness is the main reasons for the practice continuing.
They also are conducting awareness campaigns in the public, particularly in the rural areas to explain the problems the girls would undergo if she is married before the age of 18.
Earlier this year, the United Nations children's agency UNICEF revealed that the proportion of girls getting married in India has nearly halved in a decade. While the efforts are making an impact, there is still a long way to go.