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Mrunal Manmay Dash

The child marriage rate of girls in Odisha is a whopping 20.5 percent, reveals the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-5. As per the survey, six districts of the State feature above the national average of child marriage among states.

The district of Nabarangpur reported the maximum (39.4%) cases of child marriage. Similarly, Nayagarh has 35.7%, Koraput has 35.5%, Rayagada at 33.2%, Malkangiri, 32.4%, and Mayurbhanj has 31.3% girl children getting married off before they turned adult.

However, the child marriage rate among boys is relatively lower, at 13.3%. Sandhyabati Pradhan, Chairperson of Odisha State Commission For Protection Of Child Rights (OSCPCR) said, “The practice is particularly increasing in tribal-dominated areas. We will have to make the community aware leaders aware in order to put a check on this practice in the tribal-dominated districts. In fact, it will be better if we can include a chapter in the school books on the evils of child marriage.”

The figures are particularly worrying given the fact that despite awareness among people, they do not hesitate to marry of their daughters before the age of 18. 

There is also a law prohibiting this practice under which the perpetrators can serve jail term up to a maximum of two years and fine. However, the law does not seem to put any breaks on social evil.

As per the OSCPCR data, the Ganjam administration raided 17 child marriages in 2018. The number rose to 45 in 2019, 211 in 2020 and till December 2021, the administration has already raided venues and stopped 198 child marriages.

Speaking about the reason behind the phenomenon, Pranati Gaur, Childline Coordinator of Ganjam, said, “Poverty is playing a major role in encouraging this social evil in the district. Parents do not wish to send their daughters to college because of lack of finances and prefer to marry them off while they are still in school.”

Social worker Rituparna Mohanty said, “This is a failure of the entire system. The monitoring by the government agencies is very important. Anganwadi workers or ASHA workers can be roped in to collect data and provide information of such practices in their respective areas.”

It is worthwhile to mention here that the Odisha government has set a target to wipe off child marriage from the State by 2030.

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