‘Child marriages’ continue to ail the backward and poverty ridden Sirmaur district of Himachal Pradesh due to traditional, social and administrative barriers.
And while the Child Line run by People’s Action for People in Need (PAPN) in Nahan since 2013 has handled 111 cases of alleged child marriages in Sirmaur, only four FIRs have been lodged under The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, that too earlier this month.
In two of these cases, the ‘minor girls’ have delivered babies too, as per information shared by Child Line office here.
“We have been fighting against child marriages in Sirmaur since 1985. But success is limited owing to denial by society and indifference of authorities. For the first time, the administration in Sirmaur has responded positively on this important issue and has got FIRs lodged under Prohibition o Child Marriage Act, 2006. The authorities will have to accept and go for strict law enforcement, along with sensitisation of government agencies,” said Kuldeep Verma, Director of PAPN in Sirmaur.
The problem is more in four blocks, Shillai, Paonta, Rajgarh and Sangrah, in areas falling in extremely backward Trans Giri belt, where folks are poor. They are subsistent farmers or do petty jobs outside. The literacy scenario is bad.
“Child marriages are more prevalent among girls, who face odds at home or drop out from school for lack of access. In some cases, the minor girls run away to avoid bad circumstances at home and in others, they are forced to marry early by parents. In few cases, the boys are also minor,” said Sumitra Sharma, coordinator of Child Line here.
Her team has handled 1380 cases pertaining to child abuse (of different nature) in six years. The Child Line members told The Statesman that most of the time, it becomes extremely difficult to find proof of child marriage on the spot for want of local witnesses, who turn hostile under traditional influence of ‘Khumli’, a group of powerful villagers, who mediate in all such issues, quite often, to hush up.
While the cops in interior villages too allegedly shirk from taking notice or digging such issues allegedly under local pressures, the Child Line members fail to intervene fruitfully for interference by ‘Khumli’.
“In many cases, we are able to stop the phenomenon by counselling the families. In others, the parents stop it for the time-being and then do it secretively under different garbs. The same issue comes to the fore again when the minor girl reaches hospital for delivery. Ultimately, it turns out to be rehabilitation matter and the issue hangs,” said a Child Line member from Shillai belt. She revealed that her family was isolated for two months when she tried to intervene in a child marriage in her own village.
Deputy Commissioner, Sirmaur, Lalit Jain, when contacted, said, “We are taking it up sensitively and we have accepted it publically. I know everyone is going to deny such an event in the village. I have asked the Police to register the case, wherever it comes to notice, against unknown persons, and probe it.”
“I am trying to strengthen the Child Line with better coordination. We are publicizing its phone number and role further through various modes for common awareness,” Jain added.