There has been a marginal increase in the number of child marriages thwarted by the Directorate of Social Welfare this year when compared to 2015.
As of October, the department has stopped 1,113 child marriages across the State against 1,082 thwarted between January and October 2015.
“Awareness of the need to report child marriage cases has increased and prevention efforts are on. But a lot needs to be done,” said an official from the department.
Of this year’s cases, 113 were in Dharmapuri district, 107 in Salem and 87 in Madurai. Dharmapuri topped the table for the second consecutive year, though the number of cases reported saw a marginal decline from last year’s 138. At the bottom of the table is Sivagangai, where only one marriage was stopped. Chennai, where seven marriages were stopped, is near the bottom of the table.
According to the the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Child Marriage Rules, 2009, the District Social Welfare Officer, as the Child Marriage Prohibition Officer, has the responsibility of taking action on receipt of information.
Officials also lodge a police complaint and get a stamped agreement from the families in which they promise not to resume marriage proceedings.
Officials also have the option of getting an injunction order from the court to stop a marriage. Since 2008 to October this year, six injunction orders have been received, 4,717 families have signed the mutual stamped agreement and 131 FIRs filed.
“Our district officers constantly keep a watch and follow up with these families to ensure that they do not get their children married off,” said an official, adding that the common reason cited by such families is poverty and security.
“They say they want their girl children, especially, to lead better lives and a husband would provide them security. We keep holding regular conventions and seminars to sensitise them,” the official said.
The department, along with UNICEF, recently launched a caravan campaign against child marriage in 13 districts, including Salem and Dharmapuri.
As part of the campaign, officials will hold cultural programmes and interactions with parents, children, community heads, local school authorities and self-help groups.
“The campaign that began in September had to be halted due to the prospect of local body elections. We will resume it soon,” the official said.
Child rights experts noted that it was essential to address the basic economic issues plaguing families rather than merely creating awareness.
“It is important to delve deeper into the issues and address them area-wise,” said R. Vidyasagar, former child protection specialist, UNICEF.
“Most such marriages take place in economically backward areas or urban slums. Families get girls married off to meet financial commitments. Once they are all given good quality education, skill training and placements, they will have a secure future. This will help address the issue,” he said.