Despite relentless efforts by the authorities, instances of child marriages have been reported across the State even during the lockdown.
In the period from January 2019 to July this year, as many as 220 child marriages were prevented by officials of the Women and Child Development Department. The total number of complaints received during the period was 266.
The highest number of child marriages prevented was in Malappuram district – 66. In Wayanad, officials managed to prevent 38 child marriages.
There is no district in the State from where child marriages have not been reported during this period, though Pathanamthitta, Kottayam, and Ernakulam have the least – one case each.
Injunction orders from court to check child marriages were received in 65 cases. Though the orders are many a time sufficient for families to step back, the parties concerned violated the orders in 13 cases. The maximum violations were reported from Thrissur district – seven.
Officials depend on volunteers, anganwadi, ASHA, and Kudumbashree workers; members of the public, and children, including the brides, to get tip-offs about marriages fixed or about to be conducted.
At times though, information trickles in only after the marriage ceremony is conducted. At Kanhangad in Kasaragod district, for instance, when the officials reached the venue, they could find little evidence of the marriage or any witnesses.
However, when the newlyweds were found living with the bride’s family, they pursued the matter again. The girl and her family said she was 18, though her school certificate and Aadhaar card contradicted the claim.
Lack of evidence
With the court requiring evidence or witnesses to intervene, the officials found their hands tied. They then informed the District Child Protection Officer and complained to the child welfare committee (CWC) seeking steps to remove the girl from the family after the police warnings went unheeded.
For the 220 marriages averted by the authorities across the State, there could be many conducted secretly, officials surmise.
Marriages have been conducted during the lockdown period too. In one case in Malappuram, the officials had received a tip-off that the marriage had been held.
The family apparently wanted to take advantage of the reduced wedding expenses during the lockdown. However, when officials investigated, they tried to give the impression that only the wedding had been fixed; the ceremony had not been held.
In this instance too, there was little evidence available, though the police also probed the matter. All that could be done was to counsel the girl and her family, and get the child development project officers of the ICDS project to follow up.
In another instance, the family inadvertently admitted that though a marriage had been conducted, they cancelled it on realising the consequences. An FIR was registered in that case.
In Kozhikode, sensing the possibility of a marriage, an injunction order was served to the family. However, food was arranged and served by them. Concerned, the officials made enquiries, only to be told the ceremony was not conducted. The girl, just short of her 18th birthday, too denied getting married. Officials then warned the family of strict action if they went ahead with the wedding.
Lack of awareness
Lack of awareness, financial difficulties, relationships among adolescents, and social vulnerability are some of the reasons that are cited by families for going ahead with the child marriages.
The silver lining is that increasingly, children were reporting instances of child marriages owing to improved awareness levels. Only better networking at the grassroots and concerted action can help prevent child marriages in time, say officials.