CHENNAI: 16-year-old Divya is a Class XI student and hails from a village in Salem’s hinterland. She wanted to study but her parents married her off this month. The marriage function was held during the lockdown, away from the eyes and attention of officials and non-governmental organisations. Malathi, a close relative of the teenager, said that Divya’s parents have three daughters. “They married her off because of pressure from relatives and fear for her safety,” she claimed.
Whatever be the reason, Divya is one of those unfortunates forced into marriage during the lockdown, which seems to have a tendency to bring out the worst in people and the society they compose of. And that single act has most likely robbed a young girl of her dreams and the society of an educated woman.
According to a recent observation by a leading child-rights organisation (Child Rights and You (CRY)), there has been a rise in the number of child marriages in May. “In May last year, the number of child marriages increased by 40 per cent. A total of 318 cases had been recorded then,” stated the organisation, adding that child marriage is rampant in 10 blocks and 72 tribal hamlets in Salem, Dharmapuri, Ramanathapuram, and Dindigul (Kodaikanal) districts.
This year, with Covid-19 having a bigger impact on societal life, violations of child-marriages Act might increase if timely intervention is not done, the organisation said. To make matters worse, the month of May is dotted with auspicious dates for holding marriages.
M Jayam, director of Salem People’s Trust, a non-government organisation working in Salem and Dharmapuri, said that marriages these days usually cost between Rs 10,000 and Rs 20,000, and parents deemed this to be ‘affordable.’ Since most families are struggling financially, they see lockdown an opportunity godsend to marry off their children,” she said.
According to statistics from CRY, Salem recorded 60 child marriages in May 2019. It rose to 98 in May 2020. Dharmapuri, which saw around 150 cases in 2019, recorded 192 cases in May 2020. “The above-mentioned numbers are indicative of a worrying trend that we need to be mindful of,” said John Roberts, General manager, Development support, CRY.
According to the 2011 Census Report, 8.69 pc of the girls aged between 0-19 years are married in Tamil Nadu. Dharmapuri (11.9 pc) and Salem (10.9 pc) are two of the districts with the highest numbers. “We have to keep constant vigil to ensure that the situation does not worsen for poor families and their children this time. We are on constant alert and are reaching out to as many families as possible”, Jayam said. But, she also pointed out the difficulty in gathering information.