Maharashtra: 214 child marriages stopped amid lockdown
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In a bid to end the harmful practise of child marriage across Maharashtra, the Women and Child Development (WCD) department have now decided to propose amendments and improvements to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Rules, 2008. Officials said they have formed a 10-member expert committee on Monday in which they will be considering issues like treating survivors of child marriages as children in need and care under the Juvenile Justice Act 2015. WCD commissioner said there is a need to strengthen the system to end child marriages as during lockdown they were able to stop 214 child marriages.

Yashomati Thakur, WCD commissioner said Former Mayor of Mumbai Nirmala Samant Prabhawalkar will chair the 10-member expert committee. The committee, which also includes UNICEF child protection consultant Alpa Vora, among others, is expected to suggest incentives to strengthen the administrative structure against child marriages. It has to submit a report within 20 days.

“The Juvenile Justice Act divides children who are minors and have committed crimes under the Indian Penal Code, and those who need care and protection. These children are placed at state-run protection homes till an age where they can fend for themselves,” she said.

Moreover, the WCD department was able to stop 214 child marriages, said the minister. “Recently, at a meeting in Yavatmal, I was informed that 28 child marriages were stopped in the district,” Thakur added.

While Maharashtra’s child marriage rate has declined from 47.7 per cent in 1998-1999 (National Family Health Survey 2) to 26.3 per cent in 2015-2016 (National Family Health Survey 4), the matter deserved “serious attention”, said Thakur. “There are more than 17 districts in the state where the prevalence of child marriage is greater than the state average of 26.3 per cent,” said the WCD minister.

In six districts of Marathwada, the prevalence of child marriage ranges from 41.9 per cent to 51.3 per cent. Child marriage leads to teenage pregnancy and as many as 13 districts in Maharashtra with a high prevalence of child marriages also have a high prevalence of stunting of children under the age of 5.

Idzes Kundan, secretary, WCD Maharashtra said the Covid-19 crisis has also thrown up many challenging scenarios, in which the girl child is at the risk. “The combination of Covid-19 spread and economic slowdown negatively impacted gender issues including child marriages, violence and abuse,” she said. Moreover, there is a need to amend the Maharashtra state rules for better implementation of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, Kundan.

The current provisions are inadequate to ensure effective implementation of the law and several issues need to be discussed, including making it mandatory to register marriages along the lines of birth and death registrations, said an official of the WCD department.

According to committee members, child marriages will require an approach that focuses on social norms and defines gender roles, as well as involves investment in education and skill development for adolescent girls and their empowerment, and strengthening child protection committees to prevent child marriages.

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