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  • Hundreds of child marriages take place on Akti, despite ban

    Hundreds of child marriages took place in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh on Sunday, which was Akti, Akshaya Tritiya or Akha Teej, according to the Hindu calendar. This directly contravenes the law banning child marriages in India. On this day, a large number of underage and, in some cases, extremely young children, a majority of them girls, were married off.

    Being one of the most auspicious days in the Hindu calendar, Akti is the day when marriages can take place without the need for a priest (who charges money) to decide an auspicious time for the wedding rites.

    While the governments of the two states claim they have taken measures to enforce the Sharda Act, or the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1978, the reality belies these claims.

    Child marriages occurred in Madhya Pradesh, in chief minister Digvijay Singh’s Rajgarh district. In Boda village, 12-year-old Santoshbai was married to Mohan Murli, aged 14.

    In Guna district, represented in Parliament by Jyotiraditya Scindia, girls belonging to the Kushwaha community were married under cover of darkness and sent off to their in-laws at dawn to avoid public scrutiny. Many of the young couples appeared to be unaware of their fate and of the fact that the marriages were for real.

    Most of the people responsible for the weddings got away with violating the law. In cases where the police made it to the weddings on time, parents furnished affidavits stating their wards, some of them in school uniform, were above 18 (or 21, in the case of boys).

    The Sharda Act sets the minimum age for marriage at 18 years for girls and 21 for boys. But poverty, religious beliefs and tradition obviously still weigh heavily with the locals. According to the police and non-governmental organisations, the law is inadequate as long as there is societal and political backing for the phenomenon.

    Senior Madhya Pradesh officials deny the child marriages took place, saying the reports need to be verified. They say they are committed to eliminating child marriage and sati, pointing to the levy of community tax on Panna village where a sati incident occurred a year ago.

    The story was no different in neighbouring Chhattisgarh.

    Two months ago, the Forum for Fact-Finding Documentation and Advocacy, an NGO, reported more than 1,000 child marriages in Sarguja.

    Other agencies have reported over 1,000 weddings in Urla Kumhari in Raipur district, 70 in Rajnandgaon and many more in Jaspur, Kanker and Kawardha during the first week of April.

    They predicted that in the 72 hours following Akha Teej, on May 4, the number of marriages performed would be significantly higher.

    In Durg, brides and grooms-to-be took leave from school in order to get married.

    The Chhattisgarh administration doesn’t deny that child marriages do take place. Designated officials are on the alert to stop such proceedings. But the locals outwit government officials and the police by conducting the weddings in remote villages.

    Parents justify the child marriages, saying that Akti offers them the opportunity to marry their daughters off at a minimum cost.

    Source: The Telegraph

    May 6, 2003

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