Child marriage returns to haunt Karnataka after COVID pandemic – Reuters

Express press service

BENGALURU: It has been almost a century since the first law (Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929) to prevent child marriage came into effect. Since then, laws to prevent child marriage and abuse have been significantly strengthened – Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 and Amendment 2017, IPC Exception 2 to 375 and POCSO.

However, despite the decline in the number of child marriage cases over the decades with educated women entering all sectors, the number of child marriage cases has recently seen a slight increase since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. COVID.

The number across Karnataka tripled between April 2021 and March 2022, and almost doubled during the period April 2020 to March 21, compared to 2019-2020 before the pandemic took hold.

Officials say even well-to-do urban parents are marrying off their daughters early. HC Raghavendra, a member of the Karnataka Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, attributes this trend to the failure of officials to implement existing laws.

He says they have failed to educate parents about the laws and the impact of child marriage on young girls who are premature to take on the responsibilities of marriage and physically unprepared for childbirth. He also attributes it to the failure of the education system to create awareness.

There were 415 child marriages in the state in 2021-22. The highest was in Mandya with 76 years old, Bagalkot 45 years old, Hassan 36 years old and Mysuru 33 years old. The state recorded 296 child marriages in 2020-21 and 156 in 2019-20.

WHY DID CHILD MARRIAGES INCREASE DURING THE PANDEMIC?

“With many children losing their parents to COVID, fear of infection, uncertainty about life, and anxiety about the future of children, have driven parents to marry off their daughters early during the pandemic,” says Priyanka Mary Francis, director of the Department of Women and Child Development.

A total of 221 children have lost both parents to COVID.

A child protection committee member, speaking on condition of anonymity, said poverty, coupled with growing financial hardship from job loss and dealing with COVID-induced closures, has also forced the child marriages, as parents sought to reduce their responsibility for girls who stayed at home.

Additionally, as COVID restrictions were in place, weddings were simple with fewer attendees and less expense, encouraging parents to marry their daughters early.

Cases of abuse, teenage love affairs due to increased access to smartphones for online classes during the pandemic, secret marriages, cheating after reported abuse, and anxiety about teen safety have also play a role.

Vasudev Sharma, a well-known child rights activist and director of Child Rights Trust (CRT), said that during the lockdown, many boys who worked in the cities returned to their villages, which increased the prospects for early marriages to anticipate any relational problems.

There is also a prevailing feeling that young girls can adapt more easily to new households if they marry early rather than later.

A consortium of seven NGOs, including CRT, has developed an ‘Initiatives for the Empowerment of Married Adolescents’ (IMAGE) project, in which 3,000 married adolescent girls benefit from skills development training.

One of the daughters, Suma (name changed), shares, “I lost my father when I was in class 9 and I was the eldest of three daughters and a son. I was forced to getting married when i was 15 and i have a two year old son i am used as free child labor after marriage the expectation of me is also high i have to wait for my husband to come home to take money to even buy a bindi.

Sharma says, “The story is no different for other girls. All of these IMAGE girls, especially those who gave up, have now joined our campaign to raise awareness about child marriage.” Vithal Chikani, Secretary of State Unit, Samajika Parivartana Janandolana, an NGO focused on child welfare, says lack of communication is the reason child marriages have increased during COVID.

Normally, friends of child marriages, neighbors and Anganawadi workers are the authorities’ main sources of information about child marriages. But with schools and anganwadis closed during the pandemic, the flow of information was nearly interrupted.

The other reason for early marriages is pressure from grandparents to have their grandchildren married while they are still alive, which is a tradition in some communities in Kalaburagi, Yadgir and Raichur districts, he said. declared.

Prabhakar, Deputy Director of Women and Child Welfare Department of Yadgir District, explains that there are many cases in the district where young adult men pressure underage girls (neighbors or relatives) to engage in sexual relations with them. When the secret is revealed, the parents of the boy and the girl try to marry them off.

Basalingappa Niralkeri of the Belgaum Diocesan Social Service Society, says that in Dharwad district, a few families in the Gosavi community carry out such child marriages before the girls reach puberty.

Some Gosavis believe that once the girl has reached puberty, she is not fit to marry, he adds. In rural areas and urban slums, elected officials often help parents organize child marriages.

These politicians too should be held accountable. Girls who suffer after child marriages should become ambassadors to raise awareness, while awareness programs should also be taken up on a large scale, he adds.

WHERE HAVE WE FAILED?

HC Raghavendra, a member of the Karnataka State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (KSCPCR), says the existing laws are strict and those who violate the Child Marriage Prohibition Act can be punishable by up to two years imprisonment with penalties of up to Rs 1 lakh.

In accordance with IPC exception 2 to 375, sexual intercourse between a man and his wife under the age of 15 constitutes rape and may also be reserved under the Protection of Children from Violence Act 2012. Sexual Offenses (POCSO).
According to Section 31 A of the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Karnataka Amendment) Act 2016, the marriage can be declared void if either party is under the legal age.

Raghavendra says officers from 13 different departments are appointed child marriage prevention officers, but they fail to prevent child marriages because they fear being targeted, especially in smaller towns. Officers also do not follow up once they have prevented a child marriage. The police can take up suo motu child marriage cases under IPC Section 15(A), but they too do not.

He says: “Many children complain to the Children’s Helpline (1098) about child marriage. But in our review meetings we found that 30% of child marriages occur with girls’ consent because of the glorification of marriages in TV shows and movies. . Their impression of marriage is just to wear new clothes, dress up, entertain and eat well.”

“They don’t realize the responsibilities that take place after marriage. Also, in many cases, parents travel to different states or distant places and marry off their children. Agents fail to book a case due to the lack of evidence. Conviction in child marriage cases is almost nil because when testifying under Article 164 of the ICC, the girls do not testify,” he says.

Deekshith, an officer from Childline Mangaluru, pointed out, “The Department of Women and Child Protection does not take written pledges in many cases due to pressure from politicians. They also don’t take cases seriously and many cases are compromised.

WHAT SHOULD BE DONE?

Vasudeva Sharma also pointed out that, it was in 2019, the Department of Women and Child Development formed a committee to find out the status of married teenage girls, but they have not yet called a single meeting about it, said he declared. He added that men should also be told why they should not marry underage girls, he said.

Karnataka State Women’s Commission Chairperson, R Pramila Naidu, said that apart from child sex education, girls should be counseled on the importance of education for their empowerment and social security -economic.

Parents should also be educated about laws relating to child marriage and how girls are not physically prepared to give birth to a child at a younger age and are not mature enough to take on family responsibilities, a she declared.

Harish Jogi pointed out that nationalizing education in addition to economic measures for the disadvantaged could be a way to curb child marriages, he said.

COVID phobia, financial difficulties and the possibility of single marriages due to closures, romantic relationships due to access to mobile phones due to online classes, fear of abuse have led to an increase in child marriages since the start of the pandemic

(With contributions from Ramkrishna Badseshi, Prakash Samaga, Pramod Kumar Vaidya, Mallikarjun Hiremath and Kiran Ballannanavar)

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