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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Crackdown on child marriages

Burdwan, Dec. 10: Alarmed at the increasing number of marriages in rural Bengal where the bride is below 18, the government is trying to put in place a system to track them.

The scan for the spreading social malaise has begun from Burdwan. In a circular issued last month, village panchayats were asked to engage volunteers and carry out a door-to-door survey to find out how many under-18 girls were married off by their families. The rural bodies were told to submit reports every month. Gradually, the process will begin in all districts.

According to the law, marriage is illegal for girls under 18 and boys below 21.

The zilla parishad issued a circular last week saying that it was compulsory for all families to get marriages registered. The panchayats will have to submit a report on every marriage in their area every month with the names, addresses and age of the bride and groom.

Uday Sarkar, the parishad chief, said: 'We have asked the panchayats to keep a watch on the girls getting married. We will start compiling the report from next month but the panchayats will now on keep an eye on marriages in each and every village.'

According to figures available, Sarkar said, one out of four women getting married in rural Bengal is under 18. 'We will put a stop to this practice,' he added.

The sabhadhipati also said police have been asked to remain alert. 'Whenever we receive information that a girl below 18 is being married off, our officials will go to prevent them. From now on, no marriage will be allowed without the panchayat's knowledge,' he added.

The panchayat wings dealing with education and health will hold meetings to assess the situation.

District magistrate Subrata Gupta said a large number of women in Burdwan bear children when they are not even 19. 'This often leads to underweight babies suffering from malnutrition. The mother often dies in labour and many of the infants die within a month of birth,' said Gupta.

Director of health services Prabhakar Chatterjee said in at least four meetings this year the panchayat department was told about the possible problems for girls if they got married in their teens. 'We had repeatedly told them (the panchayat department) to check marriage of girls below 18 years of age.'

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