Activists in Karnataka fear child marriages may go unnoticed during lockdown

Picture for representation.   | Photo Credit: AP

Last year, as the pandemic took grip of the world, and India went into a lockdown, child rights activists were alarmed to see a slew of child marriages being reported in Karnataka. Now, with yet another lockdown in place, and this time weddings being restricted to houses due to tough guidelines, there are fears of child marriages going unnoticed.

Fr. Antony Sebastian, chairperson of the Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (KSCPCR), told The Hindu that a total of 2,180 child marriage cases were reported in Karnataka as per reports of the Childline from April 2020 to January 2021.

Also read: Sharp rise in child marriages during lockdown

In December last year, of the 1,598 complaints, 365 were related to this category. The other complaints ranged from illegal adoption, child trafficking and child labour to need for medical help or shelter.

Last year, 579 complaints were received in May by Childline (1098) in Karnataka when India was observing the national lockdown imposed by the Central government. The number of complaints eased when lockdown restrictions were relaxed, but were still worrying: as many as 214 complaints were received in August and 111 in September 2020.

The number of such complaints for October 2020 was 190, and November 321.

Number may go up

Activists in Karnataka fear child marriages may go unnoticed during lockdown

This year, in January alone (up to when data are available), 1,947 complaints were received overall in the State, of which 288 were related to child marriages. Fr. Sebastian said with another lockdown in place and marriages being allowed inside homes, the number of cases might go up.

Also read: 5 countries including India account for about half of total child brides in world: UNICEF

Some activists and organisations have raised the issue with the Ministry and the Department of Women and Child Development.

“Earlier, when child marriages happened at wedding halls, temples, etc, there were people who would alert the relevant authorities or activists who would be able to reach on time to stop it. But now, with marriages happening at homes, we may get fewer alerts and our going there could be treated as trespass,” said Nagasimha G. Rao from Child Rights Trust, who has written to Minister Shashikala Jolle, under whom the department falls. However, she is yet to respond.

P. Lakshapathi, founder and executive director of APSA (Association for Promoting Social Action), which collaborates with the Childline in Bengaluru, said that during the last lockdown, many child marriages were reported in Bengaluru Urban too, probably due to the high number of migrants living in the city. This year, between January and April 2021, the APSA had received 14 child marriage cases.

Variety of reasons

“During the first lockdown, we saw child marriages for a variety of reasons, ranging from insecurity for the girl, wherein the parents assume their responsibility is over with her marriage, to the fact that they could get away with a simple marriage without calling too many people, resulting in lesser expenditure. When we get information, we try and create awareness. Many people don’t know what the punishment is for the offence. When they learn about it, they are surprised,” he added.

He urged people to alert the Childline if they come across child marriages.

“If people get to know about such marriages, please inform the Childline. Cases are booked even after the couple has a child if they are under-aged and there have been instances where the culprits have been punished in such cases too. To prevent more such cases, the key is awareness among people. Once in a while, an ad comes on TV. But constant reminders, like the hello tune for COVID-19, will help publicise the matter,” Mr. Lakshapathi added.

District panels

Anuradha. K.N, Director, DWCD, said every district had a committee to tackle child marriages and they had been activated to conduct regular inspections. “In most cases, child marriage whistleblowers are relatives or neighbours or someone known. So smaller marriage functions may not necessarily mean more cases going unnoticed,” she said.

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Printable version | Jun 24, 2021 9:15:05 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/activists-in-karnataka-fear-child-marriages-may-go-unnoticed-during-lockdown/article34545410.ece

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