The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Stage set for child marriage battle

Bhopal, April 28: The Madhya Pradesh government is gearing up to prevent the hundreds of child marriages that are likely to be solemnised on Akshay Tritiya on Sunday.

Akshay Tritiya is considered a sacred day on which checking mahurthas (auspicious time) to tie the knot is unnecessary. Weddings held that day are believed to bring good fortune and luck.

Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan said an elaborate action plan had been drawn up to check the marriages that are rampant in the state. Rural parents rush to marry off their minor daughters ' usually between 14 and 17 years ' as transactions involve lesser dowry than usual.

The government plans to organise meetings of public representatives, community-based organisations and voluntary institutions at district, block and village levels to check the menace. Religious leaders actively involved in performing the ceremonies will be urged not to marry off minors.

Conventions to educate mothers and daughters about the ills of child marriages will be held. Women’s groups will be mobilised and cultural events staged.

Special surveillance teams to keep tabs on areas where such marriages are most common have also been set up.

In Madhya Pradesh, most child marriages take part in “VIP districts” such as former chief minister Digvijay Singh’s Rajgarh and neighbouring Guna, represented in Parliament by Jyotiraditya Scindia, the former maharaja of Gwalior.

In a macabre incident last year, the hands of social worker Shakuntala Verma were chopped off for trying to prevent such marriages in Bhanpur village of Dhar district, about 250 km from Bhopal. She had been touring the district, urging people not to continue the practice.

According to the 2005 UN report on the state of world population, 50 per cent girls in India are married off before they are 18. The legal age of marriage for girls is 18 and for boys 21.

State officials in the women and child welfare department said they had so far been depending on the 1929 Child Marriage Restraint Act to check the menace.

Two years ago, the Centre had introduced the Prevention of Child Marriage Bill in the Rajya Sabha but it was sent to a parliamentary standing committee, which heard out representations from various groups.

Several NGOs argued in favour of a bill that would abolish and not just prevent child marriages. They said prevention would mean that efforts would be made to stop such marriages but abolition would wipe out the practice.

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