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SC rings mass child marriage alert

New Delhi, March 22: The Supreme Court has directed all collectors and superintendents of police in the country to take steps to prevent child marriages during festivals coming up in the next one month.

A PIL has sought the court's intervention to prevent such unions under the Child Marriages Prevention Act with Ram Navami ' which celebrates Ram's birth ' and Akha Teej ' the most auspicious day for marriages in Rajasthan ' coming up shortly.

During these festivals, children are married off en masse in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, the PIL by the Forum for Fact Finding and Advocacy said.

'We hope and trust that the collectors and SPs of all districts in all the states shall make an endeavour to prevent child marriages as far as possible and preferably in cases where mass marriages take place,' a bench of Justices S.B. Sinha and S.H. Kapadia ruled last Thursday.

Solicitor-general G.E. Vahanvati said the Prevention of Child Marriages Bill, 2004, had been introduced in Parliament to replace the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, and objections and suggestions had been invited from the public.

The forum contended that the 2004 bill had 'anomalies', especially section 3, under which a child marriage could be rendered void 'only if the children file legal proceedings'.

Earlier, the court had issued notices to the Centre, states and Union territories asking them to show cause why registration of marriages should not be made mandatory for effective prevention of child marriages.

Appearing for the forum, Colin Gonsalves and Aparna Bhat contended the law prohibiting child marriage was seldom implemented in the states. They urged the court to hold chief secretaries, district collectors, directors-general and superintendents of police accountable.

The forum also sought a directive from the court to make the states pay 'exemplary damages' to the girls abused in child marriages. It said the states should have the option of extracting the damage money from the boy's family.

'Present day India is witnessing an emergence of this evil practice with largescale child marriages being performed on auspicious occasions in many states of India in total violation of law,' the PIL said.

The forum put the average age of girl children at 12, adding that in many cases, families did not even wait for the girl to attain puberty. Her schooling was abruptly stopped and she was married off, it said.

'She is used as bonded labour by the boy's family and sexual abuse and rape of such girl children are common occurrences as almost every male in the boy's family uses her.

'She, even as a child, bears another child and gives birth to many more children while still a minor and dies young.'

Accusing the government of 'apathy', the PIL said policemen who were supposed to prevent such things 'in fact' took part in 'child marriage celebrations'.

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