Sunday, April 15, 2007

Madhya Pradesh moves to curb child marriages

Sahni has asked the collectors to chalk out their own strategy and take action against the 'culprits'.

By Sanjay Sharma, IANS, [RxPG] Bhopal, April 14

Madhya Pradesh is using an auspicious day in the Hindu calendar to crack down on child marriages.The government has unveiled 'Raksha Sootra Bandhan' programmes under its special action plan to check mass child marriages that take place on 'Akshay Tritiya' day April 20. On that day, minor children will tie a band on their parents' wrists with a message that they should not marry off their adolescent children.Akshay Tritiya generally falls in April or May and is considered auspicious for Hindu marriages. Wedding ceremonies, including child marriages, take place on this day in Madhya Pradesh, besides Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.The plan envisages the holding of camps and rallies to generate awareness among the people in Madhya Pradesh.

These events would be organised at district and block headquarters and main villages.NGOs say nearly 20,000 children were married off last year on this day in Madhya Pradesh alone.Child marriages normally take place within the Tawar Rajputs, Lodhas, Sodhiyas and Dangi communities. Yadavs and Gujjars also join the cult.Madhya Pradesh comes second to Rajasthan as far as marriage of minor girls is concerned. While the average age of marriage for an Indian girl is 20 years, it is 17 in Madhya Pradesh.

The Unicef's state of the children report for 2007 states that the average age for marriage of girls has been increasing during the last 20 years, but 46 percent girls are still married off before they reach 18 years.The reason for early marriage of girls is not only financial. People also feel that by getting their daughters married off early the girls could be saved from sexual harassment and getting pregnant prior to marriage.

As per Unicef's 'The State of the World's Children 2007', girls marrying before 15 years have five times more chances of dying while giving birth. The state already has a high maternal mortality rate.Realising that such malpractices cannot be curbed through government efforts alone and there is a need to generate awareness in the society, Chief Secretary Rakesh Sahni has instructed district collectors to follow the plan guidelines to make the campaign against child marriage successful.Sahni has asked the collectors to chalk out their own strategy and take action against the 'culprits'.The collectors have been directed to organise awareness camps at every block headquarters, where influential people should be invited.

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