BENGALURU: A pat on the back from the Supreme Court has brought Karnataka into focus for its amendment to The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. The amendment, brought about in the state, not only declares all marriages of girls under 18 years to be void ab initio (null from the beginning), but also gives suo motu powers to the police to register cases of child marriage and also enhances the punishment to offenders.
But stopping child marriage through stringent legislation would be a narrow view that will not have any positive impact in the long run. The Department of Women and Child Development (DWCD) and associated agencies in the field, like its own Child Marriage Prohibition Officers, are unable to prevent many marriages simply because they do not get to know about it.Take the case of Bagalkot. It is the home turf of DWCD Minister Umashree and has the dubious distinction of being the district with highest number of child marriages along with Davanagere, according to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data.
Anthony C, who works with Anthyodaya, an organisation working in Bagalkot to prevent child marriages, says: “It is not that people are unaware of child marriage being illegal, but that does not stop them from conducting it. They try to evade detection by conducting weddings in the night or in their fields or changing the venue at the last moment. Anganwadi workers who inform us about the child marriage are especially at risk, since they live nearby. The only thing we can do is reach out through counselling with the help of local leaders and repeated interventions for prevention.”
In the last three years, he says at least a 100 child marriages have been stopped in Bagalkot and he shudders to think about those they never heard about. “They do not need to register marriages before the girl turns 18. Cases are registered but I have not seen a single person going to jail. So people are confident that nothing will happen to them,” he says.
Kavita Ratna, Advocacy Director with Concerned for Working Children (CWC) was on the draft committee that worked with Justice Shivaraj Patil who gave a report on child marriage, which eventually resulted in the amendments to the Act.“One of the best ways to prevent it is to talk to the children. When we were interacting with the children, we realised that they wanted alternatives.
If they are not going to get married, then what is the alternative. Whether it is education or employment, they needed to be informed. For this purpose, we consulted all the departments and compiled a list of all schemes and scholarships available and added it to the report. I am not sure if it was implemented,” she says.