Hyderabad: On November 25, 14-year-old girl Sirisha (name changed) was getting married to a 21-year-old boy in Bolligudem, Boduppal area of the city. Sirisha parents wanted to marry her with one of their relatives.
Childline got information about her marriage. Deputy Commissioner of Police's staff immediately rushed to the venue and stopped the wedding. Police counseled the parents. The minor girl was rescued and sent to Sakhi Center, Neredmet for protection.
This is not an isolated case. Rachakonda police have stopped 89 child marriages in Hyderabad since 2017. In 2020, police stopped around 19 child marriages, while in 2019 it stopped 24 child marriages. In 2018, police stopped 26 child marriages. Police stopped 20 child marriages in 2017. In some of the cases, the girls as old as 13 were to be married.
Samples this: In June 2017, Bhongiri SHE Team received information that the marriage of a 13-year-old girl at Dharmaram village in Thurkapally Mandal of Yadadri district has been fixed with 19 year man. SHE Team Bhongir went met both parents and stopped the marriage
Rachakonda Police Commissioner Mahesh Bhagwat said the SHE team gets most of the information through the local advocacy group.
"We have SHE teams. They have set up an advocacy group amongst college students, communities even in rural areas. They are educating people about the prevention of child marriage. From these advocacy groups, the SHE team gets information about child marriages. Immediately, the team contacts parents. We, tell them in unambiguous terms that a criminal case can be filed against them," said Mahesh Bhgawat.
Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, passed in the Imperial Legislative Council of India, fixed the age of marriage for girls at 14 years and boys at 18 years. It was later amended and the marriageable age for girls was fixed at 18 and boys 21. It is popularly known as the Sharda Act, after its sponsor Harbilas Sharda.
Later in 2006, Child marriage has been declared illegal under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA). This law seeks to prevent the solemnization of child marriages. It also includes the prohibition of marriages between children below the age of 18 for a girl and the age of 21 for a boy.
"By 2006 Act, 2006, there is the provision of two years imprisonment for parents. A fine of Rs one lakh fine can be slapped on the intermediary who performs marriages and provides property on rent. They are equally responsible for child marriages,' said Mahesh Bhagwat.
On July 7, 16-year-old Rashmi (name changed), was being forced to get married to a 26 years old person by her uncle at Nagaram Keesara Mandal, Medchal District. According to SHE team Kushiguda, Rashmi did not want to get married. The SHE team intervened and rescued her from the marriage.
According to UNICEF, at least 1.5 million girls under 18 get married in India, which makes it home to the largest number of child brides in the world - accounting for a third of the global total. Nearly 16 percent of adolescent girls aged 15-19 are currently married.
National Family Health Survey 2019-2020 reveals that 23.5 percent of the women in the age group of 20-24 get married before 18 years of age and 16.3 percent of men aged 25-29 years get married before age 21 years of age, in Telangana. It was also revealed that 5.8 percent of women in the age group of 15-19 years are already having a child or are pregnant.
On May 26, SHE team Bhongiri of Rachakonda police received information about the marriage of a Class IX student in Gudur Mandal under Bibinagar Police Station limits. Parents had fixed her marriage with a 26-year-old man. She reluctantly became the bride but wanted to escape the clutches of the marriage. However, she somehow got in touch with the SHE team which immediately swing into action and rescued her.
Commissioner of Police said that there are many reasons for these marriages. "Traditionally parents think when the menstruation cycle starts for the girls, they are ready for marriage. They feel after 10th standard, it will be difficult to find a suitable match. And if they let girls complete graduation, it will be more difficult to find matches and someone will ask dowry. These are the basic insecurities of the parents," said Mahesh Bhagwat.
He added that there are many side effects of these marriages. "The body of the girl below 18 years of age is not fully developed. We see the mortality rate is very high amongst them. This is a human rights issue," he said.
Police have stopped 37 child marriages in the Bhongiri division followed by the Choutuppal division with 21 and the Ibrahimpatnam division with 13.
"In an isolated case reported in Banjara Hills, an underage girl and groom to be were brought to Hayathnagar for marriage. Acting on specific input the SHE team intervene and stopped the marriage. It is not a rural phenomenon. It is prevalent in urban areas too," said Commissioner of police.