The pandemic of Coronavirus which has hardly bared anyone from its effects, according to the reports, children are the worst-affected groups from the pandemic.
As a precautionary measure against coronavirus, the lockdown was imposed in the entire country. But no one knew except the ones suffering, that this COVID-induced lockdown imposed for the safety of everyone will become a threat to the thousands of children.
According to the statistics, CHILDLINE, the nodal agency of the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development made at least 92,203 interventions to protect children in distress during the period of lockdown.
Out of this, nearly 35 percent i.e. 5584 interventions were related to child marriage which was categorized under child protection concerns- Protection from Abuse and Violence (PFA).
CHILDLINE stated data that “97 percent of the total interventions for child marriage involved minors(18 years and below), out of which 91 percent of the interventions involved girls and 9 percent involved boys.”
Among girls, 39 percent were between the age group of 11 to 15 and 60 percent were between the age group of 16 to 18. Among boys, the data stated that 19 percent of boys were aged 11 to 15 years, and 62 percent were aged 16 to 18 years.
In the past 3 months, CHILDLINE received 5,584 calls in the charge of child marriage from various states ranking Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana in top 5 for reporting child marriages during these 3 months.
“When we are able to reach the child before the marriage takes place, we first provide counseling to the child. We also inform the child’s parents and other people involved in that child’s wedding that child marriage is a punishable offense under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. a return affidavit is then taken from them stating that they will not get the child married off until he/she is of legal age. Even after this, our team follows up on the status of the child either through home visit or through phone call to ensure that the child is safe,” a senior official from CHILDLINE told ANI.
The official further added, “Also, during the course of an intervention, if it is found that the child is at risk or is likely to be coerced into marriage or is in any kind of danger, he/she is removed from the custody of the parents and presented before the Child Welfare Committee. The CWC further recommends if the child should be reunited with family or placed in a Child Care Institution (CCI) handed over to any other family member in whose custody he/she will be safe, keeping the best interest of the child in mind.”
In case the marriage has already been solemnized, the child/family is later assisted by the CHILDLINE in filing a complaint against the offenders, he said.
Based on the data stated by the CHILDLINE, ANI contacted Dr. Yasmin Ali Haque, UNICEF Representative in India.
UNICEF Representative in India, Dr. Yasmin told, “UNICEF has undertaken strong programs to end child marriage in India. Incidence of child marriage, arise due to multiple factors. It is a combination of mindset, economic hardship, and how society accepts this in their behavior. Even today, it seems like there is an acceptance that girls can get married in early age, maybe it is because of economic or physical security or in the name of protection, the girl might be married before age which can destroy her childhood. She is at a higher risk of pregnancy, complications and her own development is not optimal. Hence, legal intervention is very important to stop it and need for massive awareness in the society.”
She further added, “At the same time, we have to also think about the solutions. One of the biggest solutions is to have girls in schools and to encourage family to have their girls’ education up to the age of 18 years.”
Case study: A 15-year-old girl was rescued from the Morena in Madhya Pradesh who was getting married forcibly. According to the official of CHILDLINE, when they intervened marriage was stopped and officials counseled the family members, following which they agreed to get their girl married after she had attained majority. CHILDLINE will be in continuous contact with the girl to ensure she is not being coerced into the marriage in the future.