Moga health officials have detected four cases of child marriage after the girls registered themselves with ASHA workers for their pregnancy or as “eligible couple”. The ASHA workers go door to door to register pregnant women and ‘eligible couples’ to provide them basic health services under Reproductive and Child Health (RCH) programme of the central government under National Health Mission (NHM).
While pregnant women are given prenatal care till delivery, ‘eligible couples’ are given family planning service and counselling. A 12-year-old girl, married to a 28-year-old man from village Mangewala of Moga, delivered a male child at Civil Hospital in Moga in July this year. Married since three years, she had a miscarriage before and was even advised by a local ASHA worker not to conceive again till she turns 18.
A 15-year-old girl, married to a 27-year-old man from Dadahoor village of Moga delivered a male child at community health centre in Daroli Bhai on November 12. It was a ‘high risk’ pregnancy. Initially, she was denied a scan at Civil Hospital, Moga, saying she is “underage”, but registered later.
An 11-year-old girl and her 30-year-old husband from Salina village of Moga are registered as an ‘eligible couple’ under RCH. From the same village, a 16-year-old girl and her 22-year-old husband are also registered. According to the report of a local ASHA worker, who registered them, both the couples got married 3-4 months back.
The health department officials said the pregnant girls were placed in ‘high risk pregnancies’ category till they had their babies. The ASHA workers said they counselled the other two couples against having children until the girl turned 18 .
While there is a strict 2006 law (Prohibition of Child Marriage Act), Health department officials said there were no guidelines on reporting such cases.“While pregnancies among unmarried underage girls in case of rape or other circumstances are reported due to police intervention, the cases of underage married girls do not reach police because health staff has no guidelines for it. Even if a girl is 11 or 12 years of age and comes with her ‘husband’, she is registered as a pregnant woman, not as a child. There has never been an effort to keep a tab on such cases and check if it is a child marriage,” said an official.
Dr Sushil Jain, civil surgeon, Moga, said, “There are no instructions or any guidelines to us to inform police if there are underage pregnancies among married girls. Our work is just to ensure that all women registered with us deliver safely.”
Of the four recent such cases detected in Moga, the police was alerted for none. Health department staff say that they do not have any such instructions and all they can do is to ensure that girls deliver babies safely. If not pregnant, ASHA workers counsel them to not conceive till they are not 18. “We just alert our seniors. We did for all four cases,” said the health department staffer from Moga.
Though the Reproductive and Child Health (RCH) portal, operational in Punjab since 2016, could provide an excellent
platform to collect data on underage marriages, there is no agewise data on pregnant women, said officials.