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Rajasthan HC makes village heads 'accountable' for child marriages

By Jitendra Parmar* 

Ahead of Akshaya Tritiya (May 10), the Rajasthan High Court has taken a bold stand against child marriages, making panches and sarpanches accountable if they fail to prevent child marriages, even as asking child marriage prohibition officers (CMPOs) to report about child marriages held and their efforts taken to prevent them. The High Court order follows a PIL filed by the Just Rights For Children Alliance.
Terming the current state of child marriages in the state as alarming, the High Court in its urgent order directed the state government to ensure that no child marriages occur in Rajasthan during the upcoming Akshaya Tritiya, and made panches and sarpanches (village heads) accountable if they fail to prevent these.
The order comes following a PIL filed by Just Rights For Children Alliance which sought urgent intervention so that child marriages could be stopped from being solemnized during the auspicious festival of Akshaya Tritiya or Akha Teej falling on May 10 this year.
The division bench comprising Justices Shubha Mehta and Pankaj Bhandari also directed the authorities to keep an ‘hawk’s eye’ on a masked list provided by the petitioners which lists 54 child marriages which have been/ will be held on Akha Teej. While 46 of the child marriages are yet to take place, remaining have already been solemnized.
“A report should be called from the CMPOs with regard to child marriages which had taken place in his jurisdiction and the efforts taken by him in preventing the same,” the order said. It also ordered that the state government should ensure that the scheduled marriage of the 46 children from the list should not take place.
While the division bench noted that the efforts of state authorities have been instrumental in bringing down the number of child marriages in the state, still a lot required to be done. As per the National Health Family Survey V (2019-21), 25.4 percent of women in the age group 20-24 years were married before 18 in Rajasthan while the same stands at 23.3 percent at national level.
Bhuwan Ribhu, founder, Just Rights for Children Alliance said:
“Child marriage is the most pervasive and heinous crime that is socially acceptable in our community. It is a landmark step by the Rajasthan High Court that affixes responsibility of reporting such marriages on the panches and sarpanches, and it is only with their participation and understanding that action against this crime will lead to behaviour change for the protection of children. The way India has been taking steps to end child marriage is a lesson for the entire world, and Rajasthan High Court’s order is yet another significant stride in this direction.”
The Just Rights for Children Alliance is a nationwide coalition of 120 NGOs working on child protection issues such as child sexual abuse, child marriage and child trafficking.
The order comes at a crucial time as the incidents of child marriages see a sharp spike during Akshaya Tritiya and the government agencies as well as NGOs working at grassroots levels have been campaigning to prevent such marriages from being held.
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*With Bachpan Bachao Andolan

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