Some of them are now in college doing exceedingly well in studies
The most heart-rending scene is that of a 13-year-old girl struggling to respond to any question. The most satisfying case is that of a physical education graduate who has married the girl with whom his marriage was stopped about a year ago by the Perambalur district administration as the girl was not 18 when her wedding was to be solemnised.
A girl from Padalur, who scored 456 out of 500 in SSLC and 1,132 out of 1,200, and has been nurturing the ambition of becoming a doctor, was about to be married even before 18. Her mother, whose knowledge of education is impressive, explains her “family circumstances” for taking this decision. She is now very happy that her daughter is doing BE.
These are some of the examples in Perambalur district where 167 girls were rescued from marriages under the Child Marriages Act 2006 (as they were all below 18) by District Collector Darez Ahmed and his team comprising District Social Welfare Officer K. Pechiammal and Revenue Divisional Officer R. Revathi. This includes three Muslim marriages which caused a furore among the Muslim organisations. After the Collector advised them to move the Madras High Court if they thought what he had done was wrong and the women’s organisations like the All India Democratic Women’s Association ready to implead themselves, the Muslim organisations chose to keep quiet.
Ms. Pechiammal said the campaign began in June 2011 as soon as the Collector, a qualified medical practitioner, assumed charge. As many as 91 of these girls were below 15, some of them even as young as 13 when their marriages were about to be solemnised. “We even stopped the engagement of a seven-year-old girl who was in second standard. Besides, a 12-year-old dropout was about to be married off to a 40-year-old man by her own mother. That also we stopped,” she said.
“These are some of the instances which gave us the motivation to continue our mission without any let-up,” she adds.
Of these 167 marriages, First Information Report has been filed in 16 cases where legal action has been initiated against the parents of the bride and the groom. Court injunction has been obtained in 15 cases. While 137 of these girls are studying in schools, 14 are pursuing higher education. “We have been able to get fee concession and free seats for many of them”. Only 13 are at home while three had to be sent to government homes as there was no one to take care of them.
The interaction with these girls and some of their parents revealed that poverty, illiteracy, ignorance of law, and traditional mores and the fear that “something untoward” might happen if the girls were to remain “single” after attaining puberty were the broad reasons attributed to the decisions of the parents for such early marriages.
While some parents said they were under the impression that their daughters could be married off if they were to enter 18, they admitted that they had come to know of the Child Marriage Act which prescribes completion of 18 years of age as the pre-requisite for marriage only recently.
U. Sathyaseelan, the graduate in Physical Education, who waited for about a year to marry V. Akila, hails from a well-educated family. “We were under the impression that she has turned 18. Otherwise we would not have gone in for the marriage at all. Once the district administration informed us that we were in the wrong, we have decided to wait till she is 18.”
There are quite a few more bridegrooms in the waiting, both the girls and parents admitted.
(To be concluded)