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Bengal tops list of child marriages

Calcutta: Bengal has had the most number of child marriages in the past few years compared to other eastern states, a report by the Child in Need Institute says.

Although the number of child marriages reported in 2015-16 is less than the 2005-06 figures, Bengal still tops the list in the east when it comes to marrying off girls before they turn 18.

Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam and Odisha are the other states with such a trend but the numbers are lower than that of Bengal, the CINI report says.

The statistics came up during an event organised by the White Ribbon Alliance West Bengal (WRAWB), a consortium of NGOs working in the field of women's health, maternity and child marriage, on the occasion of World Population Day on July 11.

"The latest statistics (2015-16) shows Bengal has the maximum cases of child marriage compared to the other eastern and northeastern states that report a high percentage of child marriage," Sujoy Roy, state coordinator of WRAWB's Bengal chapter, said.

"Child marriage invariably leads to early pregnancy and often results in mortality," Roy said quoting the report of CINI that is part of the alliance.

There have been several recent instances of girls objecting to parents' attempt to get them married or seeking help of police or support groups to stop their marriage. But there are hundreds of others who have been forced into marriage, mostly because of financial constraints of families.

"Marriage does not necessarily mean security. In fact, once you get a child married, you are taking away her right to education and her means to become independent," Ananya Chakraborti, chairperson of West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights who was present on the occasion, said. "That leaves her more insecure and vulnerable towards domestic violence."

The National Family Health Survey found 54 per cent of women in Bengal were married before 18 in 2005-06. In the 2015-16 survey, it dipped to 41.6. In the same survey, the highest number of child marriages was reported in Malda district and the lowest in Calcutta. In Malda, 55 per cent of girls were married off before they turned 18. It was 13 in Calcutta.

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