The state government has stated that it is taking all the necessary steps to prevent child marriages in Maharashtra, including registration of FIR, wherever required. However, the “issue needs to be dealt with carefully without hampering the child involved in both way, physical and mental”.
An affidavit was filed by Shobha Shelar, District Women and Child Development Officer, in response to a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking strict implementation of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA) and praying that the child marriages should be cancelled and offence be registered in cases of child marriages.
Stressing on the need to handle the issue delicately, the affidavit states that the respective stakeholders working in the field, “need to carry out their duties/ responsibilities without hurting any village/ society/ culture/ tradition/ rituals, (as it can give rise to violence and disturbance amongst the citizens)”.
Also, to protect the rights/ identity and protection of the child involved in the act of child marriage, it is not always found proper to report case/s, as the socio/economic factors are required to be considered with respect to future consequences of the same. There is no meaning in hiding truthful figures of child marriages and suppressing the incidents of child marriages, adds the affidavit.
According to the affidavit, 821 child marriages were prevented by the authorities by timely intervention in the year 2021-2022. Of these, the maximum 70 child marriages were prevented in Solapur followed by 64 in Parbhani and 53 in Beed. Even in suburban Mumbai, the authorities prevented 6 child marriages.
In 2018-19, 2019-20 and 2020-21, the authorities have stopped 187, 250 and 519 respectively.
“From April 2021 to February 2022, 751 child marriages have been prohibited in the state and in this regard, 67 FIRs have been filed,” claimed the affidavit.
Due to the increased awareness, the number of reported cases is increasing. “Strict implementation of legal provisions and focus on social awareness would ultimately bring down the incidents of child marriages,” read the affidavit.
The affidavit states that they received complaints regarding child marriages in 90 cases in Solapur between January 2020 and August 2021, and all these child marriages were prevented by the District Child Protection Unit run under the District Women and Child Development Officer's office.
In addition, to prevent child marriages in Solapur, which has the maximum numbers of cases, a Child Marriage Eradication Action Force has been set up under the chairmanship of the district collector, in collaboration with support/ help of UNICEF and Centre for Social and Behaviour Change Communication, adds the affidavit.
District Child Protection Units are set up in each district and through this unit events are organised regularly to eradicate child marriages.
Further, the affidavit states that victims of child marriages are treated as a child in need of care and protection and are entitled to get all the eligible schemes of the government accordingly. “The child marriage cannot be treated as a punishable offence in all the cases as there requires a rehabilitation,” adds the affidavit.