Child Marriages Rampant In Odisha, Govt Plans To Fight The Social Evil

Bhubaneswar: Married off at a tender age, Gulati Padiami (17) of Butiguda village in tribal-dominated Malkangiri district is now a mother of a nine-month-old girl. The underage marriage has not only ruined her childhood but also has adversely affected her health.

Similar is the case of Sunita Rout, her fellow villager who was married off at 16 years of age. Six months back, she had also delivered a child, but the newborn died some days later.

Despite awareness, there has been an unbridled prevalence of child marriages in Odisha and it varies widely between districts. Currently, Malkangiri district accounts for the highest rate of child marriages in the State where around 39 percent girls are married off before they even attain the legal age of 18 years.

According to 2015-16 national family health survey, the prevalence of child marriages in Odisha was reported to be 21.3 per cent against a national average of 26.8 per cent. The data said that one in every five girls is married off before they reach 18 years of age. On the other hand, one in 10 men were reported married before attaining 21 years indicating that early marriages in girls are twice as compared to that of boys.

The report also suggests that the number of underage marriages in tribal communities is much higher as compared to non-tribal ones.

Experts opine that in spite of law banning child marriage, the evil practice continues to go on in many places which directly affect the health of women. It is also a major reason for infant and maternal mortality.

“If we marry off a girl at an early age, we burden her with more physical and mental responsibilities way beyond that what she ought to take. Neither she enjoys her childhood, nor does she attain complete timely growth,” said Anuradha Mohanty, a child protection worker.

Meanwhile, in order to combat the high incidences of child marriages, the State government has set a target to reduce its rate 10 per cent by 2024 and bring it to zero by 2030. Accordingly, the government has prepared a Strategic Action Plan (SAP). In order to monitor the implementation of the Strategic Action Plan to end underage marriage, a robust management information system (MIS) will be developed.

Sources said, the progress of implementation of the SAP will be reviewed bi-annually at the state level by the ‘State task force for care protection and development of women and girls’ chaired by the State Chief Secretary.

Similarly, it will be reviewed quarterly at district, block and panchayat levels by the district child protection committee, block child protection committee and the gram panchayat child protection committee respectively.

“Child marriage has decreased to some extent in the State. Our department is going to organise a conference on the issue on October 24. By 2030, no child marriage will take place in Odisha. Target has been set to reduce incidence of child marriage from 21.3 per cent to 10 per cent in the State by 2023,” said Odisha Women and Child Development Minister Tukuni Sahu said.