Despite awareness drives and monitoring by the administration, underage marriages were reportedly conducted in certain belts of Madhya Pradesh that are prone to the social evil on Akshaya Tritiya day on Tuesday.
While government officials said that no such marriages were reported, sources in Rajgarh district—one of the most child-marriage prone district in the state neighbouring Rajasthan—claimed that such marriages were conducted this year too, though people now take much more care to keep the events under wraps.
Sources also provided THE WEEK with photographs of some underage couples who came to seek blessings at a temple in Rajgarh city after their marriage on Akshaya Tritiya day.
Akshaya Tritiya is considered to be one of the most auspicious occasions for marriages in Hindu belief and this temple in Rajgarh is considered most propitious to be visited after marriage ceremonies. This year too, couples, including underage ones visited, sources claimed.
Sources who visited the temple on the day told THE WEEK that while the flow of such underage couples was a little less this year considering lesser number of mass marriage events due to Lok Sabha polls model code of conduct, there was definite influx.
Arun Satalkar, a Rajgarh-based social activist told THE WEEK that they had reports that underage marriages went ahead under the patronage of influential community leaders in certain areas secretly and were not reported to the authorities.
“Community leaders as well as parents are still of the opinion that children must be married off by time they are 15 so that they do not get into some problem, especially love affairs. They carry a deep sense of honour and feel any such affair would bring disrepute to them,” the activist said.
According to National Family Health Survey-4 (NFHS-4), 32.4 per cent women and 31.2 per cent men are married off in Madhya Pradesh before they turn the legal marriageable age of 18 and 21, respectively. For Rajgarh district, the figures are considerably higher at 47.8 per cent and 60.8 per cent, respectively.
Satalkar said that even if people do think twice before getting a girl below 18 married, often young men of 18-21 years age bracket are married off without second thoughts.
Michael Juma, chief, UNICEF, Madhya Pradesh said “Child marriage is a violation of child rights and every child has a right to protection against it. Collective efforts are critical in stemming out child marriage so as to enable the children to realise their potential.” UNICEF supports state government in efforts to prevent underage marriages.
Commissioner of Women and Child Development (WCD), department of state government, M.B. Ojha while talking to THE WEEK said that intensive awareness drive was carried out in the state and also special teams were constituted on occasion of Akshay Tritiya to watch out for underage marriages. “As of now, we have no reports of any underage marriage being performed,” he said.
Principal secretary of WCD J.N. Kansotiya also said that there has been perceptible reduction in underage marriages in the state due to sustained awareness drives and monitoring. “We are still collecting reports this year, but no incidents have yet come to light,” he too said.