The Maharashtra government prevented at least 560 child marriages since the pandemic began last March. In just four months this year, the women and child development (WCD) department, along with police, stopped 200 child marriages and registered 22 FIRs against parents of brides and grooms.
The state’s intervention rose sharply in 2021 and 2020, when 200 and 360 cases were reported, respectively against 2019 and 2018, when 116 and 110 cases were noted.
Most cases were recorded in Solapur, where the WCD stopped 72 child marriages, followed by 37 in Aurangabad, 35 in Osmanabad and 32 in Nanded since 2020 till April end.
Mumbai recorded eight cases, but officials suspect that several people migrate to native villages to conduct marriage ceremony due to strict monitoring in urban areas. Pune noted only one case, Thane six and Nagpur noted 15 cases.
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Maximum cases coincided with the first and second waves. Last June, during the first wave, 82 child marriage cases were stopped across Maharashtra. In April, during the peak of the second wave, 71 such cases were stopped. Mumbai WCD officials said the rise and fall in numbers could be a coincidence, but it is also possible that lockdown during the peak of each wave deteriorated the economic conditions of many that forced them to marry off their minor daughters.
When Covid-19 cases were at a low and lockdown was partially or fully lifted, child marriage cases dipped. For instance, 23 and 28 such cases were reported in the state in October and November 2020, respectively.
WCD Minister Yashomati Thakur told The Indian Express that they have inculcated recommendations, made by a 10-member committee, headed by Nirmala Samant Prabhavalkar and members from NGOs and the UNICEF, to amend rules of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, to give more teeth to it.
The committee recommended to make punishment for child marriage more stringent, give more authority to child marriage prevention officers and train ground staff on legal provisions available to them.
In five districts — Aurangabad, Hingoli, Jalna, Nanded and Osmanabad — a district task force has been set up to eradicate child marriages.
“The cases of child marriages have increased. With the help of Childline and village child protection committee, we have managed to intervene and stop such marriages. We are hearing of multiple school drop outs, and there are cases that have gone unnoticed too,” Thakur said.
She added that these cases need to be regularly tracked. “In all 560 cases, we have to monitor the minor girls. If our officers forget, it is possible that parents can retry to marry them off,” the minister said.
In February, a training was conducted for anganwadi workers and police across 352 talukas in state.
Since last March till April 2021, 58 FIRs have been registered against parents for forcing their children for marriage.
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