Speakers at the state-level workshop in Ranchi on Wednesday. Picture by Hardeep Singh
The prevalence of child marriages might have gone down in the country but some rural pockets of Jharkhand continue to throw-up astounding figures — as high as 56 per cent.
This and more was revealed at a daylong state-level workshop organised by Women Power Connect, an advocacy body at a Ranchi hotel on Wednesday with support from the Ford Foundation, a private foundation in New York City.
The workshop-cum-discussion session, titled Empowering girls by addressing child marriage, was attended by a number of government officials and civil society representatives and based all its deductions on the basis of a recent survey conducted by Women Power Connect.
According to the data presented, 73 per cent of those who took the survey, mostly villagers, believed that boys should be married only after they attained the legal age of 21.
However, 62 per cent of the very same group of villagers favoured marriage of a girl before she attained the age of 18.
Addressing the workshop on Wednesday, Rani Kumari of Chetna Vikas, an NGO — that is the partner organisation of Women Power Connect in the state — said the small survey covered around 130 households in 15 villages of the Santhal Pargana region.
This despite the existence of a 1929 law that bans child marriage that was subsequently amended in 1949 and 1978 and the comprehensive Prohibition of Child Marriage Act that was passed in 2006.
“Most often social pressure and economic reasons prompt parents to marry off their daughters before the legal age. The need of the hour is to create awareness,” Kumari said.
Chairman of the state child welfare committee K.P. Sinha, who is a health practitioner, added that girls should not be married before the legal age due to a number of medical reasons also.
“I urge social organisations working in this field to come out with CDs highlighting the complications that a minor girl may have to go through if she gets pregnant at an early age,” he said.
Echoing Sinha, state panchayati raj director Ganesh Prasad, blamed the gender disparity and the male attitude of not treating females as their equals that were putting dozens of minor girls at risk.
“A sizeable number of the state’s panchayat members at all levels are ladies. They can help prevent the scourge from spreading,” he said.
Guest of honour and chairperson of the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights Ruplakshmi Mandal too admitted that child marriage was prevalent in certain pockets of Jharkhand and more concrete work needed to be done to spread awareness against it.