Child marriages and trafficking rampant in Prakasam district
Prakasam, the land of ‘Andhra Kesari’, today has the dubious distinction of occupying the first position in respect of child trafficking among all districts in Andhra Pradesh, which ranks second among 29 States nationwide as per the latest data available with the departments of police, school education, medical and health, Childline and UNICEF. India occupies the fifth position among 84 countries
Ongole: Prakasam, the land of ‘Andhra Kesari’, today has the dubious distinction of occupying the first position in respect of child trafficking among all districts in Andhra Pradesh, which ranks second among 29 States nationwide as per the latest data available with the departments of police, school education, medical and health, Childline and UNICEF. India occupies the fifth position among 84 countries with regard to child trafficking.
The recent District Level Household Survey by the International Institute for Population Sciences found that 47.9 % of women aged between 20 and 24 years from Prakasam district were married before they attainedthe age of 18 years. Women from Kurnool and Visakhapatnam districts,at 38.4% and 36.4 % respectively, followedthose of Prakasam district.
The silver lining in the dark cloud is that in Prakasam district, Childline stopped 773 child marriages between 2014-15 and 2016-17. Of these, 329 marriages were stopped in the Ongole revenue division, 294 marriages in Markapur revenue division, while 150 were stopped in Kandukur division.
Nearly half the child marriages reported and stopped were from the urban area of Ongole division.According to a 2015 UNICEF report, about 40% of marriages occurring yearly in India are child marriages and India tops the list of all other countries with the maximum average number of child marriages.
The women who are married early usually also become victims of abortions, death of child and mother during delivery, and the families bear out-of-pocket expenditure for complicated deliveries. These incidents are forcing families to undergo trauma and are affecting family members financially and socially.
The World Health Organization report for the last two years reveals that about 8,698 critical deliveries were done in Prakasam district.
When the family is poor and weighed down by early pregnancies, some women fall prey to trafficking unknowingly.
The National Crime Records Bureau says that Andhra Pradesh is in the second position in respect of illegal trafficking. Available data reveals that about 30% of child marriage victims are also victims of human trafficking.
In Prakasam district, the police registered 39 cases of illegal human trafficking and rescued 79 women and three children from the clutches of trafficking gangs between 2014-15 and 2016-17. During the same period, the district police received complaints of about 730 people missing, of which 417 are women 313 are children.
When a girl is forced to marry someone, she should drop out of school immediately and the chances of her continuing education later are bleak. According to the Unified District Information System for Education, U-DISE, about 3 of the 10 girls who join the school in Andhra Pradesh continue education up to 8th class, while about 45% of the girls joining schools dropout of education before completing VI class. At 49.8%, Kurnool district tops in the State among districts where the girls’ drop-out is high, followed by Prakasam district at 39.21 %.
Girls Advocacy Alliance, an international initiative of Terredeshommes, Plan India, HELP, Mahita, Taruni and other network partners in India, is aimed at promoting equal rights and opportunities for girls and young women. It is paying attention to the vulnerabilities that girls and young women face, like sexual violence, early and forced marriages, trafficking, access to education etc.
Kokkiragadda Ramesh, coordinator of the Girls Advocacy Alliance, said, “Though there are hundreds of child marriages being reported, no police station is recording them as a cognizable offence under sections of 8, 11, 12 of Prevention of Child Marriages Act 2016. There are six districts in Andhra Pradesh with high prevalence of cases relating to child marriages and trafficking: Prakasam, Kadapa, Anantapur, Kurnool, Visakhapatnam and Krishna. We are working with the communities,
government organizations, NGOs, private and corporate companies to provide education to the girls and reduce the number of child marriages and trafficking. We are also trying to create awareness in the public, children, and students about the rights and protection of themselves from sexual harassment.”
According to N Rammohan Rao, secretary of HELP, an NGO, the government must establish Village Level Child Protection Committees with panchayat secretaries, anganwadi workers, VROs, Children Development Program Officers and Teachers. For, if a child marriage is being planned, one of them will get a hint of it through the villagers or even students.
Of course, there are hundreds of child marriages happening without coming to the notice of anyone. “We are sensitizing the priests, qazis, and pastors as that they are responsible for the child marriages. We are asking them to verify the age of girls with the school certificates. When they perform a marriage, they should submit the age proofs of the couple to the marriage registrars, but they are not doing it.
Also, it is the responsibility of the school headmaster to visit the house of the girl who is absent for a week and convince her parents to cancel the marriage should they be planning it. If they do not listen to him and go ahead with marriage plans; the headmaster must inform the same to the Child Marriage Prohibition Officers who would do the needful to rescue the girl.”
By Naresh Nandam