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Akshaya Tritiya, May 10, 'provides eco-system' for child marriages to thrive

By Arshad Hussain* 

As Akshaya Tritiya or ‘Akha Teej’ is approaching for celebrations that commence from May 10, discreet preparations are underway to solemnize marriages for its importance to be an auspicious occasion when girl children are driven towards matrimonial alliances making them vulnerable to the grim intricacies of life way ahead of their maturity.
Akshaya Tritiya’s significance to be auspicious for many customs remains relevant but the tradition of child marriages during this period has turned out to be bane for the girls who at a tender age are being forced to enter a wedlock that puts them in health and mental distress for the whole life.
In highly prevalent states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Haryana and Bihar, considerable secrecy is maintained to evade curbs and actions by the government and non-governmental organizations to prevent child marriages during Akshaya Tritiya.
As the coming days remain crucial and critical, all the stakeholders are gearing up to prevent child marriages from being solemnized during Akshaya Tritiya which creates an ecosystem where child marriages thrive.
By advocating a sustained awareness campaign during Akshaya Tritiya, the government has linked the elimination of child marriages to the successful implementation of its flagship programme.
The pre-emptive measures undertaken in this regard are steered by Government of India’s flagship programme of ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ scheme which clearly enumerates plan about stopping child marriages during Akshaya Tritiya with a special mention wherein it advocates and affirms that all the stakeholders should launch media campaign to reduce the child marriages during the period.
Similarly, the government has rolled out schemes of financial incentives to combat child marriages as it focuses on investing in child protection institutions, and education and healthcare systems build layers of systems and institutions working to prevent and protect children from abuse and exploitation.
Working along with the governments and law enforcing agencies, 161 NGOs of Child Marriage Free India campaign are combatting this evil in states or areas where child marriage is highly prevalent. Child Marriage Free India (CMFI) has extensively intervened with successful outreach and remains at the core of anti-child marriage initiatives and efforts to prevent this social evil.
Apart from its grassroots intervention, CMFI in tandem with the government agencies and its policies engage the stakeholders to proactively prevent child marriages in India which is being described by UN as home to the largest number of child brides in the world by providing a figure of 223 million and ascribing it to be a third of global total. However, the National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS 2019-21) shows reduction of child marriages from 26.8% in 2015-16 to 23.3% in 2019-21 reflecting promising trend and positive impact of programmes being implemented.
Pertinently, CMFI’s strategies are structured from the works of noted child rights activist Bhuwan Ribhu whose well researched book ‘When Children have Children’, contains ground-breaking blueprint on reaching the tipping point to end child marriage by 2030.
It stands relevant in every aspect of measures undertaken to prevent child marriages and CMFI with other stakeholders have streamlined its fundamental principles which emphasises on the need to galvanize at the ground level all the panchayat functionaries, district magistrates, police, education departments, Child Marriage Prohibition Officers (CMPO), Anganwadi supervisors and Child Development Programme Officers (CDPO) during Akshaya Tritiya that encourages mass marriages.
Child marriage is highly prevalent in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Haryana and Bihar
Besides, an alert has been sounded across the spectrum of stakeholders to approach and engage temple priests, masjid maulvis and other religious heads and inform them about the consequences of child marriages. 
Childline with 1098 code is actively following calls from children in crisis in coordination with civil and police administration.
CMFI activists are organizing mass awareness programmes at community level with civil and police administration working in tandem to prevent child marriages during Akshaya Tritiya.
CMFI’s substantial preemptive intervention in the run up to Akshaya Tritiya is in conjunction with the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) directive to state administrative heads who have been instructed to reach out to those involved in weddings like priests, caterers, tent house owners, wedding card printers, and report such marriages.
Here, the role of District Magistrates as Child Marriage Prohibition Officers under Section 13(4) of Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, remains vital as the nodal officer to prevent solemnization of mass child marriages.
Pertinently, the launch of ‘Chitti’, an initiative against forced marriages of minor girls in Andhra Pradesh, is a classic example of officials leading from the front in their fight against child marriages.
Significantly, DMs have been proactively working at the grassroots level and the latest directive to the proprietors of printing press to compulsorily mention date of birth of bride/s with other relevant details in the invitation card is another important measure that will act as a deterrent for child marriages during such occasions.
Besides them, there is an army of grassroots level activists associated with voluntary organisations who risk their lives to save the lives of girl children.
To eradicate any social evil from the society requires the motto and motivation to do so as was demonstrated in the case of SATI which was once a burning issue in the country and dominated the discourse for decades but the Herculean efforts of government and non-governmental organizations paved the way for its total eradication thus establishing the dictum that customs or traditions are bound to change for good when there is determination and dedication to do so.
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*Senior journalist

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