NEW DELHI: The Covid-19 pandemic, which has had an adverse impact on almost everybody, has an even more devastating effect on children.
The Centre said that it has received as many as 5,584 phone calls to prevent child marriage during the Covid-19 induced lockdown.
At least 92,203 interventions were made by CHILDLINE, the nodal agency of the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development to protect children in distress during the lockdown period. The agency acts as the parent organisation for setting up, managing and monitoring CHILDLINE 1098 service all over the country.
Of the total, 5584 interventions (nearly 35 per cent) were related to child marriage which were categorised under child protection concerns--Protection from Abuse and Violence (PFA).
"While 97 per cent of total interventions for child marriage involved minors (18 years of age and below), about 91 per cent of the interventions involved girls and 9 per cent involved were boys," stated CHILDLINE data.
Among girls, 39 per cent were girls between 11 to 15 years of age, and 60 per cent were aged 16 to 18 years. Among boys, 19 per cent were aged 11 to 15 years, and 62 per cent were aged 16 to 18 years, it stated.
"In the past 3-months, CHILDLINE received 5,584 calls reporting child marriage. Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are the top 5 States to have reported child marriages during these first 3 months. Karnataka alone accounts for nearly 29 per cent of interventions for child marriage," stated CHILDLINE data.
"When we are able to reach the child before the marriage takes place, we first provide counselling to the child. We also inform the child's parents and other people involved in that child's wedding that child marriage is a punishable offence under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. A written affidavit is then taken from them stating that they will not get the child married off until he/she is of legal age. Even after this, our team follows up on the status of the child either through home visit or through phone call to ensure that the child is safe," a senior official from CHILDLINE told ANI.
"Also, during the course of an intervention, if it is found that the child is at risk or is likely to be coerced into marriage or is in any kind of danger, he/she is removed from the custody of the parents and presented before the Child Welfare Committee. The CWC further recommends if they child should be reunited with family or placed in a child care institution (CCI) handed over to any other family member in whose custody he/she will be safe, keeping the best interest of the child in mind," added the official.
In case marriage has already taken place, CHILDLINE assists the child/family in filing a formal complaint against the offenders, he said.
Based on CHILDLINE data on child marriage, ANI contacted Dr. Yasmin Ali Haque, UNICEF Representative in India.
Dr Haque, UNICEF representative in India said: "UNICEF has undertaken strong programmes to end child marriage in India. Incidence of child marriage, arise due to multiple factors. It is a combination of mindset, economic hardship and how society accepts this in their behaviour. Even today, it seems like there is an acceptance that girls can get married in early age, maybe it is because of economic or physical security or in the name of protection, the girl might be married before age which can destroy her childhood. She is at a higher risk of pregnancy complication and her own development is not optimal. Hence, legal intervention is very important to stop it and need for massive awareness in the society."
"At the same time, we have to also think about the solutions. One of the biggest solutions is to have girls in schools and to encourage family to have their girls' education upto the age of 18 years," she added.
Case study: A 15-year-old girl was rescued from Morena in Madhya Pradesh who was forced to get married. According to the officials, when CHILDLINE intervened, marriage was stopped and officials counselled the family members, following which they agreed to get the girl married only once she had attained majority. CHILDLINE will continue to maintain contact with the girl to ensure she is not forced into marriage in the future.