Chitti initiative to prevent child marriages in Paderu

Despite the involvement of police, Mahila police, ICDS staff, and VROs, child marriages persist.
Paderu Sub Collector P Dhatri Reddy and Chintapalli ASP K Pratap Siva Kishore felicitate ICDS and police staff for rescuing a from child marriage.
Paderu Sub Collector P Dhatri Reddy and Chintapalli ASP K Pratap Siva Kishore felicitate ICDS and police staff for rescuing a from child marriage.Photo | Express

VISHAKAPATNAM: In the tribal villages of Alluri Sitarama Raju district, the practice of child marriages and child labour remains a daunting challenge. From a 17-year-old seeking help from district authorities to prevent her child marriage to a 13-year-old being coerced into marriage with a 46-year-old man, these cases highlight the ongoing battle against deeply ingrained societal practices. However, a concerted effort named 'Chitti,' led by Paderu Sub Collector P. Dhatri Reddy, aims at preventing child marriages and safeguarding child rights. "Our goal is not just to stop marriages right before the ceremony, but to cut down the cycle itself," said Dhatri.

One case involves a brave 17-year-old girl who directly sought help from the authorities to escape a forced marriage. With four dependent siblings and a mother, she faced the prospect of marriage for financial reasons. "She was very courageous to reach out to us," shared Dhatri. The authorities motivated her to join tailoring classes, providing her with an alternative to marriage.

Another case from Pedabayalu highlights the complexities of battling child marriages. A 13-year-old girl, influenced by a 46-year-old groom, was eager to marry. Despite persistent efforts by the authorities and the community, convincing her proved difficult. "She was a tough nut to crack," she recalled. The girl was ultimately placed in a residential school and will enter the 8th grade in the upcoming academic year.

Despite the involvement of police, Mahila police, ICDS staff, and VROs, child marriages persist. There is a significant information gap, and many are afraid to report these incidents. In one case, an Anganwadi worker who reported a child marriage now fears returning to the village due to backlash from the community. To address this, a control room at the Sub Collector Office now allows anonymous reporting via text, WhatsApp, or phone calls. This system, which recently uncovered two cases, highlights its effectiveness and emphasises educating girls about available opportunities. "Rather than just telling girls what to do and what not to do, it is better to educate them on what kind of opportunities await them," she stated.

Tracking school dropouts is another critical aspect of 'Chitti.' The authorities have compiled a list of last year's dropouts in Chintapalle and Madugula Mandals and are actively following up to understand their circumstances and encourage them to return to school. "Once schools reopen in June, we will take this seriously," Reddy said. The absence from school for more than 7 to 8 days will trigger an alert to track and support the child. This approach is currently being implemented in 11 mandals in Paderu.

To further bridge the aspirational gap, the upcoming 'Go Girls Campaign' will conduct school-wide workshops, educating girls about various career options after Class X and Intermediate. "It is a simple initiative where we educate girls about different career paths they can choose from," explained Dhatri. Another plan includes establishing Bal Panchayats within schools and encouraging children to participate in governance and decision-making.

The fight against child marriages and child labour is far from over in Alluri Sitarama Raju district, but with initiatives like 'Chitti,' there is hope that the cycle can be broken and the future of these young girls safeguarded.

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