The guardians of child rights are groping in the dark when it comes to data on child marriages.

The Directorate of Social Justice, the nodal agency for the child welfare programmes implemented in the State, does not have any clue about the social malady plaguing Kerala society. All that the officials could mine out from its dossiers was information on just eight cases, which were passed on to them by the State Crime Records Bureau.

The issue of child marriages has come to sharp focus following the two controversial consecutive circulars issued by the State government permitting the registration of marriages. The latest circular issued by the State government had asked the local bodies to register the marriages of minors who were married off till June 27 this year. The earlier circular, which directed the local bodies to register the marriage of Muslim girls below 18 but over 16 years and boys below 21, had to be withdrawn following serious opposition from various quarters. There were also criticisms that the order was promoting child marriages among Muslims.

A senior functionary of the department admitted that the figures available with the department on child marriages did not reflect the reality of child marriages and large number of such illegal marriages was taking place in some places, especially in northern parts of the State.

He conceded that that there was no effective system to gather information on child marriages. The surveillance system is in shambles. The whistleblowers often find themselves being isolated and harassed. The government system has failed to adopt a pro-active stand towards the issueDepartment plans

V.N. Jithendran, director, Department of Social Justice, said the 35,000-odd Anganwadi workers associated with the department would be activated to keep a tab on such social issues in their respective areas.

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