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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

During lockdown: As Mumbai records 4 complaints of child marriage, authorities prevent 3

The women and child development (WCD) department is now asking its social and anganwadi workers to be on high alert in slums and chawls to keep an eye on the tiny marriage halls.

Written by Tabassum Barnagarwala | Mumbai | Updated: November 9, 2020 6:52:47 am
Mumbai child marriage cases, Maharashtra child marriage cases, Mumbai lockdown, mumbai lockdown child marriage, mumbai city newsAcross Maharashtra, 255 child marriages have been stopped by the department between January till August with most after March, after the lockdown was imposed. (Representational)

Mumbai, which had reported no child marriages in the last four years, recorded at least one case of child marriage and three cases of such attempted unions during the lockdown.

In a city where love-struck runaway teens are common, this year saw four cases in which three families tried to marry off a girl child. The women and child development (WCD) department is now asking its social and anganwadi workers to be on high alert in slums and chawls to keep an eye on the tiny marriage halls.

“This is the first time I am seeing this kind of incidence in such a short period. Mumbai does not usually have forced child marriages, we only see 16 or 17 year olds eloping,” said Prajakta Desai, child protection officer with the department.

“Usually, child marriages happen in villages where government scrutiny is low. But now, we are seeing such marriages happening in Mumbai,” said Shobha Shelar, deputy WCD officer in Mumbai suburbs. Shelar added that detection of four cases is an indication that many more may have gone out of their radar.

Vijay Doiphode, a child welfare committee (CWC) member, said that economic repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic would be felt strongly in coming months, and predicted that a high incidence of runaway children, child marriages and child abuse would become apparent. “Once NGO workers start making their field visits, they will come across more child marriages cases,” he added.

Across Maharashtra, 255 child marriages have been stopped by the department between January till August with most after March, after the lockdown was imposed. The department has got FIRs filed in 25 cases. In many cases, children have been referred to institutional care because parents are too poor to feed them.

Manisha Pirari, project manager at the State Adoption Regional Agency, said the sudden incidence of child marriages in Mumbai was a matter of concern. “This means girl education is being stopped.”

In 2016-17, while Maharashtra recorded 110 child marriages, the figure was 158 in 2017-18, 110 in 2018-19 and 116 till July 2019. The cases, which have doubled since 2016, were not reported from Mumbai.

Centre coordinator for Yuva Childline, Jitendra Chougule, said child marriages have taken place in Mumbai in the past but were not detected by the government. “Not all get officially recorded. Now, officials are perhaps more alert.”

In three of the four cases in Mumbai, the city and suburban WCD offices, CWC and Childline were able to intervene and prevent the marriages from taking place. One however, could not be prevented.

Vikhroli

In June, a late night text message to a social worker saved an alert 14-year-old girl from child marriage in Vikhroli. She is the daughter of a construction worker, who became unemployed after the lockdown. The 14-year-old, one of the seven siblings, was being forced to marry a 34-year-old man because her father decided this was one way to reduce the number of mouths to be fed.

“The family followed a tradition of engagement at an early age, and marriage after girls turned 18. But the pandemic left the father with no choice. He decided to stop her education,” said Prajakta Desai.

The girl was a topper in her class, and had cleared Class X. She wanted to study further. Initially, her parents told her they were only getting her engaged but when she saw a new sari, matching jewellery, and too many preparations being made, she realised it was a grander function. The night before she was to be married, she texted the local social worker, who approached the department. The next morning, a team of police and WCD officials stopped the wedding.

“The family lived at a construction site. Her parents were not ready to listen. We eventually had to take the minor away and admit her in a child care facility,” said Desai, adding they faced a stiff resistance from the family and had to separate the girl.

Goregaon

On October 5, WCD social worker Meera Gudile received an email from a Childline helpline regarding a possible marriage planned for November in Aarey Colony. “We immediately alerted the Aarey police,” she said.

The call to Childline had come from a social worker, informing about a 16-year-old girl studying in a BMC school in Class IX. With the lockdown, her father, a driver in Osmanabad, was out of a job. He planned to marry her off to a 22-year-old man. Her mother had passed away and she was staying with her uncle in Goregaon.

On October 12, Gudile paid a visit to the girl’s Goregaon home. “The uncle denied that there were any plans for marriage. But this is how families react whenever we try to stop a child marriage… and the girl was taken away to her village,” she said. Following this, the Aarey police informed its Osmanabad counterpart, which visited her rural home.

“We have taken an undertaking from the father that she will not be married until she becomes an adult,” Gudile said. A child protection officer will visit her every week. Her father said he has two more children to look after and is unable to find a job.

Mahul

In August, a Mahul resident anonymously called Childline and tipped off about the possible wedding of a 14-year-old girl in the first week of September. The girl’s mother was the sole earning member in the family of six, her father was a delivery man but did not often report for work. So, the entire house was run by the mother who sold pav and fish at a Mahul rehabilitation site.

Since March, both parents were out of work. They soon ran out of savings and decided to get the eldest of their four daughters married. In August, the 14-year-old’s marriage was fixed with a 22-year-old Mumbai resident. “Four years ago, she was forced to drop out of school to look after her younger sisters. She would cook and clean the house while her mother was out at work,” said Jitendra Chougule.

In August, when her mother could no longer arrange for money to buy ration, she convinced her daughter to get married. “The girl had no choice in the matter,” Chougule said.

Childline reached out to the RCF police station. “We counselled the family. They did not even know that getting a minor married was illegal,” Chougule said. The RCF police made the parents sign an undertaking that they will marry their daughter once she is becomes an adult. Childline volunteers now regularly monitor the family.

Kurla

The one that could not be stopped was the marriage of a 17-year-old girl to a 30-year-old man in June after her aunt, who ran a beauty parlour, could not run her business amid the lockdown.

As the girl’s mother had died and her father was jobless, she was living with her aunt in Kurla. Her younger cousin, a victim of sexual abuse who was being counselled by CWC, informed them about her cousin’s wedding.

“When she told us about her cousin’s age we reached out to the family,” said CWC member Doiphode. “The aunt said the girl will become an adult in a few months and she can’t keep her at home till then. We had no option but to intimate the local police and get an FIR registered,” he added.

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