The festival of Akshay Tritiya is traditionally associated with the purchase of the yellow metal. But, not everything about Akshay Tritiya (Akha Teej) is glitter. As part of the age-old customs, the day witnesses many child marriages, predominantly in rural areas. District administrations are keeping vigil to ensure that the social evil of child marriage is kept at bay this year.
Child Protection Departments and Social Defence officers of districts in central Gujarat are closely watching the wedding venues for the next few days to prevent possible child marriages. While Narmada Collector Sandip Sagale has instructed the Child Welfare and Protection Department to form a unit to avert any possible child marriages, in Anand and Vadodara too, district officers are on the look out for any tip-offs related to child marriages in the next few days.
Sagale said, “I have asked my Child Protection officers to be alert in cases related to children — be it bonded labour or child marriages. Not just for these two days but for the entire year. We held a meeting recently, in which we have formed units to ensure that not a single child is subjected to any unjust practice in the district.”
On March 14, the Child Protection Unit of Narmada District had averted the marriage of a 14-year-old girl after warning her parents that a criminal case would be registered against them for forcefully marrying off the minor daughter.
An officer of the department said that with help of social activists and NGOs, the unit was networking in the impoverished tribal belt of the area to ensure that no child marriage was performed in the coming auspicious days.
“This year, the farmers have suffered much loss. Although traditionally, marriage is seen as an event that means much expenditure, many poor parents indulge in child marriage out of distress where the girl is married off to a much older groom or for some compulsions. We are hoping that we do not come across any such traumatic cases for the welfare of the child,” he said.
In Narmada, where mass marriages are expected in the next two days, officers are ensuring that the background and age of the brides taking part in the ceremonies are verified.
In Anand too, in the last one month, the Social Defence Officer has averted two child marriages in the rural district, one of which was in Navli village of the district. L B Patel, who has been entrusted the charge of the Social Defence Officer of Anand district, said his team of three officers has activated its sources for all tip-offs in the next two days.
Patel said, “Several marriages occur on Akshay Tritiya and the incidence of child marriages are higher on this day. Since the auspicious time begins on April 20 and continues until April 21, these two days will be critical to ensure that no child marriage occurs. We have averted two child marriages last month and the team is alert about the evil practice, to ensure coordinated effort with the district police.”
In Vadodara district too, although the occurrence is considered to be much lower than those in Narmada and Anand, Collector Avantika Aulakh said that the Child Protection Unit is on watch. “Any specific incident will be reported to the police control room for action,” Aulakh said.
Akshay Tritiya, which falls on April 21 this year, is considered a highly auspicious day in the Hindu calendar, with several families marrying off their minor children in many states across the country. Although the perception is that the social evil is practised only in the rural areas, Trupti Shah of Sahiyar Stree Sanghatana in Vadodara said that child marriages occur in the city limits as well.
“The child marriages are rampant, particularly for borderline teenagers. Although it is more common in the low income areas, it is an evil that can occur anywhere. In mass marriages, particularly, these kind of cases get passed off. Not just for Akshay Tritiya but all year round, it is a practice that needs to be tackled. It has increased with insecurity among parents who feel the burden of either financial or social security of their daughters. They want to marry off their daughters so that the burden is shifted to the husband and there is no shame on them if anything untoward occurs. The administration has been ineffective in creating awareness and ensuring education to the lower strata, which can help prevent such instances,” he said.