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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Tamil Nadu: Amid Covid-19 lockdown, Nilgiris witnessing rise in cases of child marriages, sexual abuse

According to the data from the district administration, the number of cases under The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO) has registered a rise of 52 per cent from April 2020 to March 2021 as compared to the period between March 2019 and March 2020.

Written by Janardhan Koushik | Chennai |
Updated: May 1, 2021 6:45:41 pm
Save the childWhile last year six cases of child marriages were reported in the district, there have been 13 cases so far this year.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, there has been a rise in the number of cases of sexual abuse of children as well as child marriages in Tamil Nadu’s Nilgiris district.

According to the data from the district administration, the number of cases under The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO) has registered a rise of 52 per cent from April 2020 to March 2021 as compared to the period between March 2019 and March 2020.

While last year six cases of child marriages were reported in the district, there have been 13 cases, more than 100 per cent increase — this year so far.

Speaking to indianexpress.com, district collector J Innocent Divya said they have prevented seven child marriages in the district in recent times.

One of the reasons for the rise in child marriages and sexual abuse of children, she said, was lack of access to online classes when schools remained closed in the lockdown.

Smile Police along with district officials run ‘Operation Smile’ to rescue missing children.

“We have been tackling the dropout issue as the schools were closed. A section of children who do not have means to access online education had been idle for almost a year. Parents of girl children find it difficult to keep them home for a longer period owing to concerns of their safety. The women say their husbands are alcoholics and they fear their daughters could be abused when they are not around, so they think it is better to marry them off,” she said.

Another thing that we noticed that led to the increase in child marriage, Divya said, is also the increase in the number of case of elopement.

The district child protection unit has reported instances of children aged 15-17 eloping with boys of their age or older boys.  Due to the social stigma and shame, parents believe it is better to marry off the girls than keeping them home.

The administration, after receiving the information about such incidents, has taken action under the POSCO Act against those attempting to marry off underage girls.

The official said they have tried to study the pattern of such instances if it is more prevalent in tribal areas, if it is happening in any particular community or if it is owing to the economic situation, etc. but have been unable to reach any conclusion.

The collector believes lockdown is one of the primary reasons behind such acts.

She said the children are undergoing so much stress in this pandemic period and society hardly gives importance to that. “They don’t know whether they are going to be back in school or going to meet their friends, etc. Children, especially adolescents, have more physical and mental energy and if parents fail to channelize them on a right track then it will lead to many issues.”

Awareness District officials interact with local residents to spread awareness.

Volunteers organising CSR initiatives have been asked by the administration to conduct more awareness programmes about child marriages and try to bring children together at a common place where they can interact with each other.

In the initial phase, the programme is being carried out in five hamlets in Coonoor taluk following Covid-19 safety precautions, like wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, etc.

As part of the programme, children are brought to a common open space from 4 pm to 6 pm. With the help of a projector, the volunteers are teaching them basic math and language skills. The officials said the module differs for each age group. Similarly, awareness sessions on menstrual hygiene, physical and mental health are also being conducted.

“We are trying our best to engage these children in some activity to avoid any distraction, we are also educating the parents that don’t need to fear about their children staying home. We have created a separate community mechanism for it. We convince them that their children will join school soon and will eventually complete their education and find a good job. Child welfare volunteers have also been informed to constantly monitor the areas where there are reports about child marriages. We hope our efforts will work,” Divya added.

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