Child marriages rampant in Visakhapatnam
VISAKHAPATNAM: At an age when she should have been going to school, she found that her parents had fixed her marriage with a much elder person. But 15-year-old Nagalakshmi from Kasimkota wanted to study. When all efforts to convince her parents failed, she sought help from a relative, who rang up the child helpline number hours before the marriage.
The district child protection officer (DCPO) accompanied by the police and mandal revenue officer reached the spot and stalled the illegal marriage from being solemnized. Today, the girl is studying in a women’s college and has been put up in a hostel. Her parents were counseled about the ills of child marriage.
While Nagalakshmi is one of the lucky ones whose underage marriage was successfully prevented by prompt action from district officials others are not so lucky. Despite awareness campaigns by government, underage marriage of girls is rampant in the district and even within the city limits.
In fact, between January to August 2014, 29 child marriages were stalled in Visakhapatnam district by the Women and Child Welfare (WCW) department even as many others went unreported. In just three weeks in August, four underage marriages were stopped in the city limits.
Admitting to the prevalent social evil, DCPO A Satyanarayana, said, “It’s not just in the rural and Agency areas that such marriages are taking place. There are such cases in the city too. On an average, every week, we are alerted about at least one such marriage. In three weeks of August, we stopped four child marriages at Gajuwaka, Madhurawada, Tagarapuvalasa and Padmanavam area. Almost all the 29 rescued children are girls aged between 15 and 17 years. Most of them belong to backward and ST communities and 60% of them are from very poor families.”
According to officials of the WCW department, marriages are fixed by the parents usually with a close relative or neighbour with the purpose of keeping the property within the family. Giving and taking of dowry is also prevalent.
“The rescued children are placed before the child welfare committee and arrangements are made for their education. We face a lot of objections and threats from the girls’ families asking us not to interfere and claiming that the child is above 18 years of age. Some families are also backed by local political hooligans. So, we usually visit the places accompanied by the police and try to get hold of the age certificate from schools,” said the DPCO.
According to AE Roberts, project director, WCW department, Visakhapatnam, the department is making all-round efforts to generate awareness on the issue among the public and are usually alerted by NGOs, anganwadi workers and at times by unidentified callers on the child helpline.
“Anganwadi workers are our resource persons in villages and we act immediately whenever they alert us. Every month, we have nutrition and health education day in villages where efforts are underway to educate mothers and women about this burning social issue. Underage marriage is co-related with various evils including human trafficking, malnutrition, poor physical and psychological health of women, infant and maternal mortality and so on and therefore, it needs to be stopped at any cost,” said Roberts.