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Child bride saved after SOS

A 16-year-old schoolgirl was rescued from her Dhapa home on Thursday night, hours before she was to be forcibly married off by her parents.

The Class IX student of a city school called the child helpline number (1098) and “pleaded to stop the wedding”. Her marriage on Friday was “fixed” with a 20-year-old youth from Dum Dum.

“We received two calls about the child marriage. The first came from the bride and the other from her school friend. Both pleaded with us to stop the marriage. The girl said she wanted to study but her parents were trying to marry her off through coercion,” said Dilip Bose, coordinator of the Childline India Foundation, a central government initiative.

Officials at Childline took down the details from the girl and alerted police.

A team comprising officers of Pragati Maidan police station and officials of Child In Need Institute (CINI), which collaborates with Childline in Calcutta, went to the girl’s home late on Thursday and rescued her.

The girl, who is the only daughter and second child of her parents, was desperate to get out of the proposed marriage, an official in the rescue team said. “She did not cry and told us in front of her parents that she wanted to study. And that she would do anything to not get married now,” the official added.

The girl’s father works as a water carrier while her mother is a homemaker. They were initially reluctant to call off the marriage but relented as they had little choice when the police intervened.

Childline records show that the helpline receives at least three distress calls from minor brides every week.

“We get three-four calls every week. The majority of calls come from Dhapa, followed by Tiljala, Topsia, parts of Gariahat, Lake Gardens and Tollygunge,” an official said.

Childline has lodged a complaint against the girl’s father under various sections of the child marriage act.

“No one was arrested since the marriage did not take place,” said an officer.

The girl was taken to the CINI shelter and produced before the child welfare committee on Friday.

The parents will be counselled and the daughter’s future, especially where she will live, could be decided at a meeting between the father and mother and the committee members.

“Since the parents are the accused party, it is unlikely that the girl would be ready to return to her parental home. If she wants, she can stay in a state-run home and the state government will bear her educational expenses (till the age of 18),” said an official of the committee.

There have been instances where the child has decided to go back to her parents. In such cases, the committee monitors the progress of her education.