The Centre received as many as 5,584 phone calls to prevent child marriage during the coronavirus-induced lockdown, revealed data released by CHILDLINE, while the Telangana government said about 204 child marriages have taken place in the state around the same time.
The report said that CHILDLINE, the parent organisation for setting up, managing, and monitoring helpline number 1098 service across the country, made at least 92,203 interventions to protect children in distress during the lockdown period.
CHILDLINE, a nodal agency of the Union Ministry of Woman and Child Development, in its report mentioned that of the total interventions, 5,584 (35 per cent) were related to child marriage, categorised under child protection concerns Protection from Abuse and Violence.
According to the present law under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, child marriage has been declared to be a cognizable and non-bailable offence.
The Act has a threefold purpose — prevention of child marriages, protection of children involved, and prosecution of offenders.
“While 97 per cent of total interventions for child marriage involved minors (18 years of age and below), about 91 per cent of the interventions involved girls and 9 per cent involved were boys,” the CHILDLINE data stated.
Among girls, 39 per cent were girls between 11 to 15 years of age, and 60 per cent were aged 16 to 18 years. Among boys, 19 per cent were aged 11 to 15 years, and 62 per cent were aged 16 to 18 years, it stated.
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“In the past 3-months, CHILDLINE received 5,584 calls reporting child marriage. Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are the top 5 States to have reported child marriages during these first 3 months. Karnataka alone accounts for nearly 29 per cent of interventions for child marriage,” the data revealed.
“When we are able to reach the child before the marriage takes place, we first provide counselling to the child. We also inform the child’s parents and other people involved in that child’s wedding that child marriage is a punishable offence under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. A written affidavit is then taken from them stating that they will not get the child married off until he/she is of legal age. Even after this, our team follows up on the status of the child either through home visit or through phone call to ensure that the child is safe,” a senior official from CHILDLINE told news agency ANI.
“Also, during the course of an intervention, if it is found that the child is at risk or is likely to be coerced into marriage or is in any kind of danger, he/she is removed from the custody of the parents and presented before the Child Welfare Committee. The CWC further recommends if they child should be reunited with family or placed in a child care institution (CCI) handed over to any other family member in whose custody he/she will be safe, keeping the best interest of the child in mind,” the official added.
According to Dr. Yasmin Ali Haque, UNICEF Representative in India, a girl child is at a higher risk of pregnancy complications, if married before the age of 18, and her own development is not optimal.
She told ANI that in such cases, legal intervention is very important to stop it and there is a greater need for massive awareness in the society.
“At the same time, we have to also think about the solutions. One of the biggest solutions is to have girls in schools and to encourage families to have their girls’ education up to the age of 18 years,” she added.
204 child marriages in Telangana
The revelation comes on a day when the the Telangana State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (TSCPCR) said that as many as 204 child marriages have taken place in the state during the past three months.
All the district Collectors and Magistrates in the state have been asked to issue instructions to the officials concerned to take immediate action and steps to sensitise the people to the Prevention of Child Marriages Act, 2006, a press release from the TSCPR said on Saturday (June 27).
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it was reported to the Commission by Childline that from March 24 to May 31, a total of 204 child marriages have been solemnised, the release said.
The Commission takes it on a serious note because the child marriages have serious implication on the lives of the girl children, it said.
The commission further said it is everybody’s due responsibility to protect the girl children from early marriages, otherwise it would affect them in every walk of their life, especially health and education.
The report comes at a time when on Friday (June 26), the state registered as many as 985 new cases and seven deaths, taking the tally of positive coronavirus cases in Telangana to 12,349 and fatalities to 237.
West Bengal launches helpline
Earlier this month, the West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights (WBCPCR) launched a helpline to address reports of child marriages and trafficking taking place in the state amid the crises of COVID-19 and Cyclone Amphan.
The WBCPCR has set up an exclusive desk to address issues related to child marriage and trafficking after reports of such crimes came from places such as South 24 Parganas district and the Sundarbans in the past few weeks, a senior official said.
“In case of any complaint, information or news, related people can reach out to the Commission on 9830056006 or 9836078780. A WhatsApp Helpline number (9836300300) has been also launched,” a statement released the WBCPCR said.
When contacted, state Women & Child Development and Social Welfare Department secretary Sanghamitra Ghosh said it is a precautionary measure to keep a check on such delicate issues.
“We are in the middle of two crises. Such matters surface during these types of crisis and we are trying to raise the awareness level of people. It”s a standard operating protocol procedure,” Ghosh told PTI.
West Bengal Chief Minister during a meeting held at Kakdwip in South 24 Parganas district on May 23 had asked police to keep a check on women trafficking and a probable increase in criminal activities there.
(With inputs from agencies)