At a time when the state government has plans to bring down the marriageable age of Muslim girls in the state, the Kerala Women’s Commission (KWC) has come out strongly against child marriages. With increasing number of child marriages being reported in the state, the commission urged Child Marriage Prohibition Officers (CMPOs), who have been appointed with the task to prevent child marriages in the state, to be aware of their rights and duties. According to K C Rosakutty, KWC Chairman, CMPOs can seek police help to prevent child marriages. However, on many occasions, the prohibition officers were afraid to intervene. P Mohandas, member secretary of the Kerala State Legal Services Authority, who inaugurated the seminar organised by the Kerala Women’s Commission here on Friday, said despite the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act coming into existence in 2006, the CDPOs are still not aware of their role and duties in preventing child marriages.“The Act came into existence in 2006 and the state framed its set of rules and powers that have been entrusted to the CMPOs in this regard. But due to lack of awareness, most of them are unable to act properly,” he said. He called for the need to enlighten the officers in this regard. Rosakutty said the Act is applicable to all sections of society since the country is secular in nature. “Everybody has to act according to the rules and regulations imposed on them. No sect or community is exempted from such an Act,” she said. Nowadays, a majority of people are of the opinion to raise the limit on marriageable age for girls from 18. She opined that anganwadi workers should be involved in the task. Any of the persons involved, including parents, guardians, caterers and the bridegroom, if above the age of 18, will be considered an offender in the crime as per the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. Child marriage, which is cognizable and non-bailable in nature under the Act, is illegal. The mother, even though she cannot be imprisoned, will have to exact a fine. For a child marriage to be considered null and void, the persons concerned should approach the family court or Principal Sessions Court. Mohandas urged that a proactive role has to be taken by CMPOs to monitor incidents of child marriage, especially in the tribal belts of the state.
■ There is much ambiguity in the Act about the powers conferred on CMPOs. ■ P Meera, CDPO of ICDS Wadakkanchery, said there have been many instances when the magistrate is not aware of such an Act. ■ Though anganwadi workers can play a major role in informing the CDPOs, they often hesitate because of fear. ■ Also, the delay in issuing an injunction order by the magistrate creates difficulty in terming a child marriage contract void. ■ Adv Seena Rajagopal spoke on the rules and guidelines about CDPOs as per the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. ■ P M Antony, project director of Rajagiri outreach programme, said child marriage can be reported by dialling 1098 to Childline.