Bengaluru/Mysuru: About 14.9 per cent of women in Bengaluru, aged between 20 and 24 years, were married before the legal age of 18, according to a study conducted by the district level household and facility survey – 4 (DLHS), under the National Family Health Survey 2015-16.
However, the Karnataka State Commmission for the Protection of Child Rights, says this number is not as worrying as the statistics from North Karnataka. The problem is at its worst in areas like Yadagiri, Belgaum, Bagalkote, Bellary, Kalaburagi and Gulbarga. “This social evil is most commonly present among people from the lower economic strata. They have migrated to the city from rural parts of the state. Poverty and a lack of education are the biggest causes,” explained Dr Kripa Amar Alva, Chairperson, KSCPCR.
Nagasimha G. Rao, director, Child Rights Trust, says the organisation receives around three calls pertaining to child marriage a week. Rao is also among the activists who are pushing to have such cases categorised under POCSO or Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences. “The punishment is more severe under POCSO and this might prove a bigger deterrent than any other for those who are contemplating committing an offence,” he said.
Besides, he argued, with a large number of cases unreported, it is very difficult to understand the true scope of the problem. “It is prevalent in the surrounding areas of Bengaluru. However, it is hard to catch for we get a lot of hoax calls that direct us to a certain location while the marriage is conducted elsewhere. There is a stigma attached to reporting these cases as marriages are considered to be a happy event. This is why many people hesitate to call the police,” he added.
That 30% of the nation’s married women are victims of child marriage is a “matter of shame,” said Komal Ganotra, Director, Policy, Research, Advocacy and Documentation at CRY. “It is so rampant that society is unable to view it as an evil to be eradicated. Instead it is given a social sanction. This is a landmark judgment as it shifts the paradigm from ‘social validity’ to a more child-centric approach. “
I hope that it will serve to change the legal landscape by bringing about required amendments in the Child Marriage legistlation and revamp strategies to prevent and prohibit child marriage.”
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Mandya Child line (a helpline set up by the Union government) has received as many as 119 cases of child marriages in Mandya district during 2016-17. However the number of cases reported with police is much less.
According to Mikkere Venktesh, Director of Bird institution (which is implementing Child Line in Mandya along with Vikasana), in Srirangpatna 28 child marriages were reported, while at Mandya child line 25 cases were from Mandya town, 18 from K.R. Pet taluk, 16 from Nagamangala, 13 from Malavalli, 11 from Pandavapura and eight from Maddur, he said.
“To find out sexual abuse in child marriage, consent of girls above 12 years of age is needed for medical test, but they won’t do so. In some cases people who are economically weak or due to ill-health they would want to marry off their daughters whenever there is a good offer. Some girls tend to fall prey to love affairs.
Moreover with increasing cases of love affairs and elopement, parents are now trying to marry off their daughters early, to prevent them from falling prey to affairs.
When cases of child marriage are reported, parents put pressure on the police, even approach politicians or they tamper with the evidence regarding the age of girls. So in most child marriage incidents cases are not registered.
This is despite an amendment of Child Marriage Prohibition Act, 2014, where is a provision to take suo motu case and even a common man can make complaint.
“There are also child marriage prevention committees, led by DC in each district, which needs to meet periodically, but it doesn’t often happen. And most officers lack the will to implement the laws,” Venkatesh said.
Mr Vasudev Sharma, Director of Child Rights Trust (CRT), which is one of the petitioners in the case of Supreme Court ruling, on Wednesday, “The issue of child marriage is multi dimensional. Whenever there is anything new, people tend to resist. But the omission of the duties, inaction by authorities is leading to increasing number of child marriages even at this modern times,” he said.