One in four marriages in Maharashtra is a child marriage and in a bid to end the harmful practice, the state Women and Child Development (WCD) department has decided to propose amendments and improvements to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Rules, 2008.
An expert committee was set up on Monday, which will consider issues like treating survivors of child marriages as children in need and care under the Juvenile Justice Act 2015, among other steps, state Women and Child Development Minister Yashomati Thakur told The Indian Express.
Former Mayor of Mumbai Nirmala Samant Prabhawalkar will chair the 10-member expert committee. The committee, which also includes UNICEF child protection consultant Alpa Vora, among others, is expected to suggest incentives to strengthen the administrative structure against child marriages. It has to submit a report within 20 days.
The Juvenile Justice Act divides children who are minors and have committed crimes under the Indian Penal Code, and those who are in need of care and protection. These children are placed at state-run protection homes till an age where they can fend for themselves.
“We are looking at these issues where, by reading both laws together, a Child Marriage Prohibition Officer or police officer can immediately produce any such child before the Child Welfare Committee for appropriate care and protection orders under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015. However, the Rules 2008 make no mention of this important clause, ” said Thakur.
She emphasised that there was a need to strengthen the system to end child marriages. During the lockdown due to the pandemic, the WCD department was able to stop 214 child marriages, said the minister, adding, “Recently, at a meeting in Yavatmal, I was informed that 28 child marriages were stopped in the district.”
While Maharashtra’s child marriage rate has declined from 47.7 per cent in 1998-1999 (National Family Health Survey 2) to 26.3 per cent in 2015-2016 (National Family Health Survey 4), the matter deserved “serious attention”, said Thakur. “There are more than 17 districts in the state where prevalence of child marriage is greater than the state average of 26.3 per cent,” said the WCD minister.
In six districts of Marathwada, the prevalence of child marriage ranges from 41.9 per cent to 51.3 per cent. Child marriage leads to teenage pregnancy and as many as 13 districts in Maharashtra with high prevalence of child marriages also have high prevalence of stunting of children under the age of 5.
The Covid-19 crisis has also thrown up many challenging scenarios, in which the girl child is at risk. “The combination of Covid-19 spread and economic slowdown negatively impacted gender issues including child marriages, violence and abuse, ” said WCD department secretary Idzes Kundan.
There is a need to amend the Maharashtra state rules for better implementation of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, Kundan told The Indian Express.
The current provisions are inadequate to ensure effective implementation of the law and there are several issues that need to be discussed, including making it mandatory to register marriages along the lines of birth and death registrations, said an official of the WCD department.
While instances of girls getting married before the age of 18 has declined from 47 per cent to 27 per cent between 2005-2006 and 2015-2016 in India, it is still too high. Nearly one in three of the world’s child brides lives in India. Of the country’s 223 million child brides, 102 million were married before they turned 15.
According to committee member Alpa Vora, addressing child marriages will require an approach that focusses on social norms and defines gender roles, as well as involves investment in education and skill development for adolescent girls and their empowerment, and strengthening child protection committees to prevent child marriages.
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