18 months on, panel yet to ready anti-child marriage SOP in TN

The SOP initially submitted had detailed steps on procedures to be followed when a child marriage is stopped and when the marriage has happened.
For representational purpose.
For representational purpose.

CHENNAI: More than one-and-a-half years after a committee was formed to create a standard operating procedure (SOP) to prevent child marriages in the state, the SOP is yet to be released. The committee was formed as Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Child Marriage Rules lacks clarity on the roles of various stakeholders involved in the prevention of child marriages in the state.

According to sources, a committee headed by the social welfare director with child rights activists and social welfare officers as members was formed in December 2021. The committee was supposed to frame the SOP within March 2022.

“The government had decided to bring out an SOP as rules were not clear on the roles of district social welfare officer, district child protection office and police among others,” said a member of the committee.

He added that police often refuse to file first information reports in child marriage cases citing lack of evidence as an excuse. “While more than 3,000 child marriages happen every year in the state, FIRs are not filed in most cases. This creates problems in getting an injunction against stopped child marriage or nullifying a child marriage that has happened,” he added.

The SOP initially submitted had detailed steps on procedures to be followed when child marriage is stopped and when the marriage has happened. However, the social welfare department wanted some changes and asked the committee to rework it after sitting on it for a while. A meeting on the matter is yet to be scheduled after the social welfare director took charge, sources said.

According to the national family health survey-5, 12.8% of marriages in the state are child marriages.

“Awareness has been created in every nook and corner so that people can call 1098 in case of child marriage. Most of the calls come to the childline which acts as the first responder. When it was run by child activists, they used to fight with the police to act in such cases. With now government being in-charge of the childline, it is essential to have clarity on roles of various government departments so that they can’t avoid their responsibilities,” a child rights activist said.

Officials from the social welfare department were not available for comments.

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