Hyderabad: A sharp decline in child marriages has been seen over the last ten years, with 27 per cent of girls getting married today before their 18th birthday as opposed to 47 percent a decade ago, the United Nations children's agency, Unicef said.
This decline has contributed significantly to the decline of child marriages in the country. Overall, the proportion of girls who were married as children has decreased by 15 per cent in the last decade, from 1 in 4 to approximately 1 in 5, the report said.
“South Asia has witnessed the largest decline in child marriages worldwide in the last 10 years, 25 million child marriages were prevented globally in the past decade, with the largest reduction seen in India,” Unicef stated.
Child marriage is a big disruptor in a girl’s life, health-wise and education-wise. Her future is put at stake, said a member of the Child Welfare Committee for Ranga Reddy district, V. Padmavathi. “The poor child is unaware of what she has been forced into. We, however, rescue the girl either before the marriage or after, but she will still have suffered,” she added.
“We have been vigilant and have taken care of all the cases that come up with due diligence. In the past 10 months, we have averted about 10-12 cases in Shamshabad area alone, said the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Shamshabad, P.V. Padmaja.
“The girl has not yet reached a stage in her life when she will be able to make such a decision on her own. At such a time, if the parents she trusts take away her education and forces her into an early marriage, she is left with little choice but to accept her fate,” said Dr Diana Monteiro, a psychologist.
“In rural areas, they believe that the girl needs to be married early, and the people there are not always aware of the legal age for marriage. In urban areas though, child marriage is seen as a punishment for the girl. If the girl is seen talking to a boy or walking next to one, she is grounded, her education is stopped and matches are fixed. The middle-class and upper-middle class are aware of the laws relating to child marriage, and the consequences of such actions, but will still proceed with the marriage plans,” said Dr Purnima Nagaraja, a consulting psychiatrist.
Each and every child marriage prevented gives another girl the chance to fulfill her potential. Though the major reason given by the parents is their financial condition, some of them also state that the marriage is intended to keep the girls safe, said Nitika N. Kumar, a child rights activist.
She teams, rights activists help
Hyderabad: SHE teams and child rights activists have been vigilant in preventing child marriages in the city and the outskirts. Officials have been counselling the parents and educating them about the importance of education for the girl child and the merits of the same.
A systematic and regular awareness programme is required from the government. The authorities concerned should counsel the parents well and inform them about the laws involved, including the punishments that follow such an offence, said Padmavathi, a member of a city-based NGO.
“The parent should know the importance of education in a girl's life, which will be completely ruined when they decide to perform the underage marriage,” she said.
The first step that the Child Welfare Committee takes in case of an alert about a child marriage is to immediately intimate the child protection unit, who then informs the police and accompanies them to prevent the marriage. The girl is then placed in a shelter home till the decided wedding date and the parents are counselled and kept under surveillance for a year.
A declaration is also taken from the parents that they will not repeat the offence. “In case the marriage has taken place, we approach the in-laws and rescue the girl. If the marriage is consummated, we book the husband under the POCSO Act and take the necessary action after shifting the girl to a shelter home,” said Ms. Padmavathi.