Child Marriage Prevented in Odisha

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    Odisha has witnessed a sharp increase in the number of child marriages prevented over the past four years following increased awareness and better coordination among field-level staff.

    Data Analysis

    • In 2017, 324 child marriages were stopped following the last-minute intervention from the community, NGOs and field-level officials.
    • In 2018, the number grew marginally to 411. However, the last two years saw a massive jump in marriages being stopped.
    • As against 657 child marriages stopped in 2019, 1,108 were stopped in 2020.
    • In the first five months of 2021, attempts to solemnize 726 such marriages have been foiled.
    • The prevalence among girls was reported to be 21.3 percent against the national average of 26.8 per cent whereas for boys it was only 11 per cent against the national average of 20.3 per cent (National Family Health Survey-4, 2015-16).
    • Fifteen districts including many southern districts have higher percentages than the state average.
    • Odisha witnessed a decline of nearly 16 and 11 percentage points (between NFHS 2005-06 and 2015-16), for girls and boys marrying before the legal ages of 18 and 21 years respectively.
    • One in five women was married by the age of 18 and one in 10 men were reported to have been married before 21 years indicating that early marriages among girls are twice compared to that of boys.

    Major Reasons for Early Wedding in Odisha

    • Poverty is one of the main reasons cited in western Odisha districts for families to opt for child marriage.
      • Girls from poor households are more likely to marry as children since marriage becomes a ‘solution’ to reduce the size of the family.
      • However, the cost of marriage slides families further into poverty.
    • Ganjam and Rayagada districts which have high levels of migration among young boys in search of jobs cited possible love-marriages, inter-State and inter-caste marriages as major reasons for early weddings.

    Major Preventive Steps

    • Odisha Strategic Action Plan to End Child Marriage
      • The action plan seeks to bring down child marriages by 50 per cent by 2024 and eliminate the tradition by 2030.
      • The government strategy paper has been prepared with the help of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
    • A special effort was made to prevent child marriages with the Women and Child Development Department, UNICEF and ActionAid, an NGO, joining hands.
    • District coordinators have been placed in 15 vulnerable districts, who work towards strengthening response mechanisms for the prevention of child marriages.

    Child Marriage

    • It refers to any formal marriage or informal union between a child under the age of 18 and an adult or another child.
    • It is often the result of entrenched gender inequality, making girls disproportionately affected by the practice and is often linked to patriarchal attitudes towards girls, including the need to safeguard family ‘honour’.
    • Child marriages in parts of Europe and Central Asia may reflect a hardening of gender attitudes that reinforce stereotypical roles for girls and limit their opportunities.
    • Globally, the prevalence of child marriage among boys is just one-sixth that among girls.
      • While some boys marry before the age of 18, the vast majority of children who marry are girls, often against their will and with grave consequences.

    Impact

    • It has a disproportionate impact on girls and curtails their education, compromises their health and traps them in poverty, undermining their prospects and potential.
    • Child brides experience isolation from their family, friends and communities, as well as violence, abuse and exploitation.
    • Girls who marry early often become pregnant while they are still children themselves, with great risks for their own well-being and that of their babies. 
    • There are clear links between child marriage and school drop-out, with girls who are married before the age of 18 less likely to be in school than their peers, and girls who drop out of school more likely to be married.
    • Rescued children are not produced in most cases before the Child Welfare Committees (CWCs) and are often sent back to their parents if they are produced before the CWC resulting in forced marriage in secrecy.
    • Others are forced to reside in the same socioeconomic cultural situation, leading to frustration and anxiety.
    • Those who stay with their parents, face adversity and humiliation every day and such instances are discouraging adolescents to raise their voices against child marriage.

    Legislative Protection

    • Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929: It restricts the practice of child marriage.
    • Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006: It was enacted to address and fix the shortcomings of the Child Marriage Restraint Act.
    • Special Marriage Act, 1954 and Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006: These prescribe 18 and 21 years as the minimum age of consent for marriage for women and men respectively.
    • Juvenile Justice Care and Protection Act, 2015: Powers to safeguard the best interests of India’s children.
      • For this purpose, Child Protection Committees, Child Protection Units and CWCs have been formed and are functioning at the district level.
    • Committee by the Ministry for Women and Child Development: To examine matters pertaining to the age of motherhood, imperatives of lowering Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) and the improvement of nutritional levels among women.
    • District Child Protection Unit (DCPU): Responsible for identification and rescues children in need of care and protection.
    • District Child Protection Committee: These are headed by the Chairperson of the Zilla Parishad and are nodal organisations at the district level to review and monitor the work related to ensuring child rights.
    • State governments are trying to reduce child marriages to zero by 2030.
    • Sustainable Developmental Goal (SDG) 5: It deals with gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls with an aim to prevent child marriage.

    Global Efforts

    • In 2016, UNICEF, together with UNFPA, launched the Global Programme to End Child Marriage.
      • Empowering young girls at risk of marriage or already in union, the programme has reached more than 12 million adolescent girls with life-skills training and school attendance support since 2016.
      • Over 105 million people, including key community influencers, have also engaged in dialogue and communication campaigns to support adolescent girls, or other efforts to end child marriage.

    Suggestions

    • After stopping child marriage, the relatives should be monitored and the child should be provided with support and protection.
    • The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals call for global action to end this human rights violation by 2030.
    • Strategies to delay or prevent child marriage:
      • Empower girls with information, skills and support networks.
      • Provide economic support and incentives to girls and their families.
      • Educate and rally parents and community members.
      • Enhance girls’ access to a high-quality education.
      • Encourage supportive laws and policies.
    • In order for the next generation of development programmes to make ending child marriage a priority, policymakers must pay attention to these strategies while continuing to test innovative approaches and evaluation techniques.
    • There should be a focus on those girls who are most at-risk and mobilise those who influence families and wider society to give girls more control over their own lives and prospects.
    • It should be addressed through programming across sectors to tackle the many aspects of this harmful practice, particularly in marginalized communities.
    • Ending child marriage involves tackling the many challenges that perpetuate this rights violation, such as gender inequality and discrimination, lack of education, and poverty. 

    Source: TH