India: Child marriages reduced through regional government UNICEF Program
HYDERABAD: Kiran Kumar Reddy may have made for a pretty picture helping a girl child write at a government school in Ameerpet, but it is in the distant revenue division of Adoni in Kurnool district that a real revolution is actually unfolding. Revenue officials here have stopped a whopping 400 child marriages in less than two months.
In a crackdown unseen earlier, officials spearheaded an anti-child marriage campaign along with other government departments and across the 17 mandals of Adoni. The result: this wedding season at Adoni saw fewer child marriages than the previous years.
Local officials have even managed to put a system in placepeople performing marriages of their children in Adoni now mandatorily need to carry the bride and the grooms age certificates. It has also been made mandatory for presses printing wedding cards to ask for age proofs of brides and grooms.
The age group of the bride and groom at the marriages we stopped was 12 to 18, says N Prabhakara Reddy, the revenue divisional officer, who played a key role in the drive, visiting wedding venues, plonking himself at the kalyana mandapam next to the priest or the groom and preventing marriages. Awareness drives over the last many years have not exactly yielded results, he says and so the tool he used was fear. Two years in jail and Rs 2 lakh fine is what was announced at each of these weddings. We had to raise our voices when we asked them to stop the marriage. And it had the desired effect, given that most of these people are poor, Reddy says, who even introduced a cash prize of Rs 100 for tip offs on child marriages. At each of the marriages stopped, an undertaking on a white bond paper was taken from the parents saying that they would not perform the childs marriage before the legally permissible age of 18 for girls and 21 for boys.
Adoni, which is on Karnataka border is known for its textile units and high girl child drop out rate, almost 50 per cent. Around 80 per cent of these drop out girls get married soon after they leave school. As per official estimate, their age at marriage hovered between 12 and 14.
A survey commissioned by Unicef in the area in 2009 had found 1, 400 cases of child marriage in this area. The division records a high number of health complications among young brides, as per the Unicef survey. Child marriage is a custom in this place. The problem is most acute in Adoni because of poor literacy levels. The local custom followed here also influences child marriage decisions, said A Krishna Rao, joint director (school education) who is currently on deputation as district manager, Unicef and was involved in the drive.
Officials here say that child marriages in Adoni had ensured that very few or no girls made it to colleges, with a chunk of them dropping out at school level. The maternal and infant mortality rates are also high here. We are working with Unicef on all these issues, said Kurnool district collector Ram Shankar Naik.
The crackdown team admits that there were a few failures too with parents managing to procure age certificates showing that their child was not a minor. But even in these cases, we ensured that the marriage was allowed only after the age proof was shown, says Prabhakara Reddy.
The drive has had a ripple effect. If the local police was initially hesitant in pitching in with its help, it is stopping marriages on its own. We have stopped three marriages in the month of May, says circle inspector Somanna, adding that he is aware of the revenue departments successful drive.