In Namakkal, Erode, Ariyalur, Dharma-puri and Krishna-giri, there is a high rate of child marriages

Despite having some of the best development indices in the country, Tamil Nadu is not entirely free of child marriages — they are quite rampant in the State, said activists.

Why this is the case, what to do about it and how to address inadequacies in the law were some of the issues discussed at a conference held on Tuesday.

Conducted by Sama Kalvi Iyakkam (SKI), a child rights movement, the conference saw participation from over a dozen activists working in several organisations across the State.

One issue raised was the recent increase in the age of consent from 16 to 18 years. While this may be a good initiative, there are many cases of teenage boys being charged under the law, even if the relationship is consensual, a speaker said.

According to the organisers, a recent study conducted by Little Trust, a Madurai-based NGO, in collaboration with SKI and Child Rights and You, revealed that in several districts, including Namakkal, Erode, Ariyalur, Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri, there is a high rate of child marriages.

The survey found a large number of girls in these districts are pulled out of schools and forced into marriage. “There is a huge difference between the number of reported cases and the actual figures,” said B.S. Ajitha, an advocate, and one of the speakers.

She said one major problem is families are not afraid of the law — in many cases, when such marriages are stopped, the families simply go to another village and perform the ceremony. The speakers also stressed the need to differentiate between cases where children are forced into marriage and those where teenagers below the age of 18 elope.

Participants also raised questions — from how to get the police to register a case of sexual assault to finding out what happens to girls rescued and taken to government homes. On the way forward, the recommendations included expansion of the Right to Education Act to ensure free and compulsory education up to the age of 18 instead of 14, and providing drinking water and operational toilets in all government schools.

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