A frail but determined 14-year-old Rekha Kumari has emerged as a star in Koderma district of Jharkhand where within a week, as many as 26 minors, including 23 girls, were saved from being married off recently.
As per local customs and tradition, Rekha was about to be married off to a man double her age on April 27, but determined she strongly resisted pressure imposed by locals.
When it looked as if she would be forcibly married off, the teenager sought help of Kailash Satyarthi Children's Foundation (KSCF), an NGO working for child rights, which immediately swung into action by alerting the local administration and law enforcement authorities.
With their help, Rekha, a native of village Ghortappi in Koderma, was saved from child marriage the day the ceremony was to be solemnised, said a release issued by KSCF here.
Rekha is one of the 26 children rescued by the KSCF from being married off in a span of a week, it said.
She and her mother have appealed to the Child Welfare Committee of Koderma for protection as many locals allegedly continue to exert pressure on the family, the release said.
In their defence, Rekha's parents told local officials that they had decided to get her married because of their poor financial condition, sources said.
"Rekha is the eldest of the five children, including three girls, of her parents," they said, adding, "She had dropped out of school earlier but wanted to pursue studies".
The district child welfare committee has assured making arrangements for the girl's education at the local Kasturba Gandhi school, the sources said.
Most of the children who have been saved from marriage between April 20-27 were between the age group of 12 to 15 while the youngest of them was 11 years old, said KSCF, founded by Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi.
All the girls were getting married to men who were double their age, the NGO claimed.
Though child marriage is banned in Jharkhand as per the Child Marriage Act of 2006, the pernicious practice continues to be rampant.
According to the Annual Health Survey of 2010-11, Jharkhand ranked third after Bihar and Rajasthan with 51.8 per cent of girls married off at less than 18 years of age.
Even the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reports that the prevalence of child marriage in the region is among the highest, as the average cases have never gone below 50 per cent, in the past 10 years.
The legal age for marriage in India is 18 for women and 21 for men.
As per Census 2011, 30.2 per cent of all married women, or 10.3 crore girls, were married before they had turned 18.
However, the trend showed a decline from Census 2001, which had stated that 43.5 per cent of all married women had been wedded while they were under the age of 18 years.
As per National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, nationwide a total number of 222, 280 and 293 cases have been registered under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA) 2006 in the years 2013, 2014 and 2015, respectively.
"The reasons for child marriage are complex and it is a mindset problem which considers girl child as a burden.
"Social customs, tradition, illiteracy, poverty, low status of women in society, lack of awareness about consequences of child marriage are some of the other reasons that encourage the practice of child marriage," Minister of State for Women and Child Development, Krishna Raj, had told Lok Sabha during the budget session this March.
"These issues cannot be tackled by legislative interventions alone," she had said, adding, "This is a continuous process and the government undertakes media campaigns and outreach programmes to address this".