TAMIL NADU: Preventing child marriages

Published : Oct 19, 2012 00:00 IST

Dr Darez Ahmed, Collector of Perambalur district, at a school in Siruvachur village.-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Dr Darez Ahmed, Collector of Perambalur district, at a school in Siruvachur village.-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

WHERE there is a will there is a way. The bold initiative of the Collector of Perambalur, Dr Darez Ahmed, and his young team of officers to check child marriage in this industrially backward and predominantly rural district vindicates this adage. Within a span of just 18 months, they have stopped as many as 125 child marriages and rehabilitated the potential victims. Of the rescued girls, more than 90 are school students, eight of them below 15 years of age. The Collector has ensured that they continue their studies.

Dr Ahmed commended District Social Welfare Officer K. Pechiammal and Revenue Divisional Officer R. Revathi for implementing the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. It needs some guts to enter marriage halls without any big police force and rescue the minor girls, he said, referring to these women officers efforts to stop the marriages. In many cases, the administration was alerted by the girls friends or classmates.

It has not been all smooth for the administration always. Some organisations representing a minority community even staged a protest before the collectorate on the grounds that by preventing the marriage of a 17-year-old girl belonging to the community the Collectorate was interfering with the communitys personal law. But the district administration justified its action by stating that the relevant law applied to all citizens of the country.

According to Pechiammal, in all the cases, the girls were jubilant after their rescue as they were keen to continue their studies. How all these girls rejoiced after their release from the jaws of eternal suffering is still green in my memory, she recalled.

Revathi said a Revenue Department inquiry into the deaths of women under suspicious circumstances within seven years of marriage revealed that around 58 per cent of them were child marriages. She pointed out that the administration was creating awareness on the issue through grama sabha meetings, held in 152 panchayats, and through programmes held in schools and colleges.

Owners of marriage halls and temple priests had also been cautioned in this regard. The practice is not confined to any particular caste or community, official sources say.

The administrations firm resolve to wean people away from the age-old practice is based on the clear understanding that it deprives girl children of their rights to good health, nutrition, education and freedom from all kinds of violence against them.

Recalling the fight against child marriage in Perambalur, Dr Ahmed told Frontline that it all began after he read the magazines Cover Story essay by the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen titled Many faces of gender inequality (Frontline, November 9, 2001). The seven types of anti-female bias mentioned in the essay, which talked about 100 million missing women, triggered the Collectors initiative.

Dr Ahmed, who is a medical graduate, said: The issue should not be seen in isolation. It is part of a vicious cycle which should be broken through a multi-pronged strategy to achieve child survival and maternal health.

S. Dorairaj
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