Chennai, June 11(BPNS)
With Covid creating financial crisis and parents finding it difficult to meet two ends, girls under the marriageable age group are being married off in the state. A study conducted by the Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), Child Relief, and You (CRY) found that child marriage is rampant in the districts of Dharmapuri, Salem, Ramanathapuram, and Dindugal districts of the state.
The study states that there could be a higher number of child marriages in these districts that had witnessed 318 cases of Child marriages in May 2020, a whopping 40 percent increase from that of the same period in May 2019.
The month of May is considered as most auspicious for marriages in Tamil Nadu and the figures for May 2021 are yet to be compiled. However, there was a worrying trend in the number of girl children getting married off citing poverty of parents and other flimsy reasons.
According to CRY, in May 2019 , Salem district recorded 60 child marriages while in May 2020 the figures touched 98 numbers. Dharmapuri district had 150 cases in May 2019 and in May 2020 the figures were 192.
In 2011 census it was reported that in Tamil Nadu, 8.26% of girl children in the age group of 6-19 were married off. Statistics show that Dharmapurai (11.6%) and Salem (10.9%) are the two districts with the highest number of child marriages.
M Jayam, Director, Salem People’s Trust working in Dharmapuri and Salem districts while speaking to BPNS said, “ Most of the parents don’t have any cash and they find that during the lockdown period they can conduct the marriage at very low expense. Marriages are held with expenses of less than 20000 rupees and parents find this as an excuse to marry of their girl children.”
She said that more than tribal hamlets of these districts, the study by her organization in the grass-root level found that the urban areas are more prone to these child marriages.
She says,” We are trying our best to prevent these marriages reporting to the local police stations and bringing to the notice of the district administrations but these marriages are held under secrecy and the general public are not aware of such a thing happening at all as there are no invitees accept the close relatives of the families of the bride and groom.”
John Roberts of CRY said that as there was a 40% increase in child marriages in May 2020 when compared to May 2019, the 2021 figures will be disturbing as local level volunteers are reporting an increasing trend following poverty and child marriages are considered as an easy gateway for the parents to shed off their responsibilities.
Dr. Bindu Menon, Clinical Psychologist at Salem while speaking to BPNS said ,” Until and unless there is a feeling that girl children are assets and not liabilities as meted out, the child marriages will tend to increase. Covid and lockdown have added to these woes and bright girl children are being married off at a tender age without knowing what was happening to them. Police and district administrations must take a very rigid and strong stand to curb this inhuman act.”
Padmanabhan M, a police officer heading a police station in Dharmapuri district while speaking to BPNS said, “We are trying our best to prevent this but most of these marriages are held in utmost secrecy and once we come to know things will be late. We have brought some parents to book and charged them but its only a tip of the iceberg and there has to be aware at the highest level to prevent this.”
Another major issue facing the state will be the children who are orphaned during Covid and the possibility of such children falling victims of a lobby of child racketeers.