120 child marriages prevented in Perambalur district in a span of 18 months
“But for these two courageous women – District Social Welfare Officer K.Pechiammal, and Revenue Divisional Officer R.Revathi – we would not have stopped so many child marriages in this district, the most backward in the State in terms of gross domestic product (GDP),” said Darez Ahmed, District Collector.
(The district’s per capita GDP that was Rs.2, 890 in 2002-03 slumped to 1,643 in 2008-09 while that of the State increased from Rs.3, 383 to Rs.4,460 during the same period.)
“It is their conviction that helped prevent 120 child marriages in a span of just 18 months – the highest in the State. The figures are all the more daunting if we consider the population of the district, which is just 5.5 lakhs, half of it women,” he adds.
He admits that he had to face the fury of some Muslim organisations when one such marriage was stopped three months ago. “When they quoted Shariat Law saying that anyone who attains puberty is eligible for marriage, I told them that the Child Marriages Act 2006 explicitly says that it applies to all the citizens of India below 18 years and it is the constitutional duty of the District Magistrate to enforce it. I also told them that they are at liberty to move the High Court. I still stick to the stand.”
The criticism from other communities was that they have suffered huge loss in the form of money spent on the marriage preparations. “But we cannot allow young girls to be forced into marriage”.
The District Social Welfare Officer points out that of the 120 child marriages stopped 86 were stopped before marriage. FIR has been filed in 16, injunction order obtained in 17. As many as eight girls are below 15 years of age.
Mr.Ahmed says 91 of these girls have been admitted to school, six to college and 22 are being followed up at their home. Two of them have been referred to a government home for safe custody.
The child marriages in the district are not confined to any particular community. It is across the communities.
“The cycle of deprivation of the girl child starts at birth itself (foeticide\infanticide). Then it moves on to their nutritional level, schooling, higher education and ultimately to their marriage.” The education of female children is definitely affected because of gender discrimination.
That is why female literacy level in the district is 66 per cent against 83 per cent of males.
Mr.Ahmed, citing Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, says “a lot of girls who should have been born in India are missing thanks to gender discrimination.”
“Then it moves on to their nutritional level, schooling, higher education and ultimately to their marriage.”
“Hence child marriage is an issue that should not be looked into in isolation. It is a multi-pronged issue. So we have decided to attend to it at various levels.” Mr.Ahmed says “We have made it a point to identify those involved in sex identification and warned them that very severe action would be taken.”
The sex ratio was 711 girls against 1,000 boys in August 2010. It rose to 758 in 2011 and in February it touched even 1166.
The infant mortality which was 22.8 per thousand in 2009-10 has been brought down to 15.5 during 2011-12. “Reporting both of the infant mortality and also of maternal mortality has been made very strict”. All the births are being audited. Maternal mortality rate has been quite high in the district; virtually double that of the State average.
In 2009-10 it was 120 per lakh live births. Next year it declined to 90, only to surge to 137 during 2011-12. “Though it is not fair to attribute all the maternal mortality deaths to early marriage, a considerable part of them is definitely due to early marriage”.
For instance, of the 170 women’s deaths, within seven years of marriage that comes under the ambit of RDO inquest, 55 per cent are because of child birth.
It is because of more than two children and 50 per cent of the infant deaths are also because of more than two children. “We have brought down the maternal mortality rate during the past six months and now it is 56 per lakh live births.”
As nutrition forms the most important feature, we have launched a drive to identify the malnourished children. Of the 42,975 children brought under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), 452 were found to be severely underweight and 13,414 moderately underweight in August 2011.
During the corresponding period this year, of the 43,944 children, as many as 730 have been found to be severely underweight and 13,048 moderately underweight. Besides, we have asked the ICDS to monitor them meticulously.
Vitamin A is provided by the ICDS centres apart from food. Supplementary nutrition is provided to 26,350 children in the age group of six months to three years. Besides, 9,936 who are taking noon meal are also looked after under the ICDS. While 3,971 antenatal mothers are also taken care of by the ICDS centres, 3,146 postnatal mothers also come under their care.
The State Government has also been kind enough to sanction 50 new anganwadis apart from sanctioning almost Rs.3crore for repairs of the anganwadis. Besides, adolescent girls are provided supplementary nutrition along with the noon meal.