The Maharashtra government is “under reporting” incidents of child marriage and is not doing enough to stop it, says a performance audit of the social sector in the state by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India.
The CAG had audited the implementation of the Prevention of Child Marriage Act, 2006, over the last three years.
During the course of preparation of the report, the CAG had collected figures from the additional director, Maharashtra Family Welfare Bureau, about Adolescent Reproductive and Sexual Health (ARSH) — a flagship programme of the Central government, which forms part of the National Health Mission. This programme is directed at adolescent girls (10-19 years) and involves special medical and social intervention.
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Data collected by CAG showed that during the years 2012-13 and 2013-14, 378 and 627 girls in the age group of 10-14 years respectively, who registered for the programme were married. Similarly 11,398 and 11,839 girls in the age group of 15 to 19 years who registered for the programme were found to be married during the corresponding period.
“On the other hand Government of Maharashtra reported only 45 cases of child marriage in the above time frame. This gives a clear impression that child marriage cases in the State were being under-reported by the Government,” the CAG report said. The state has also fared poorly in the implementation of the Act, the report observed. Although the Act came in force in 2006, the state government framed the rules for the Act only in 2008.
Child marriage prevention officers (CMPO) are yet to be appointed for the urban areas where more than 45 per cent of the state’s population lives. The state government is yet to issue notifications to vest the CMPOs with powers which would allow them to work on field.
The CAG has also noted that the Women and Child Development department has no mechanism to watch for compliance of the Act as there are no provision of periodical reports and returns from the CMPOs.
The rural CMPOs, child rights expert Santosh Shinde said, were the gram sevaks or anganwadi tai. “With no separate training provided to them, many are vaguely aware of the role they are expected to play,” he said.
Shinde said the backward Marathwada region witnesses the most child marriages in the state which are a combination of socio-economic causes, and there is no standard operational procedure in place which can be activated in case the local CMPO comes to know of incidents of child marriage.
“On a daily basis we get information of one or two incidents of child marriage,” Shinde added.
The socio-economic conditions are a reflection of the state of women in Maharashtra, said Asha Bhise, member of the State Women’s Commission.
In drought-affected Marathwada, it is the question of social security of girls which leads their parents to coerce them into early marriage.
“Often there are no secondary schools for girls and once they finish their primary education the parents fear for their safety. If a girl is married off, the parents think that she would be safe with the husband,” said Bhise.
Women’s rights activist Kiran Moghe said incidents of child marriages in the slums of the cities are rampant .
“Getting the police to stop incidents of child marriage is not a very satisfactory method of solving the issue and CMPOs are expected to step in with a less aggressive image. The state unfortunately has not put in any effort by which this social evil can be handled in the proper manner,” she said.