The recent move by the Karnataka government to use X-rays to ascertain the age of potential brides and grooms to reduce incidents of child marriage has failed to impress child rights activists and experts working in the field.
"From now on a radiology X-ray report has to be obtained by taluk and district hospitals to ascertain the age of the bride and groom before marriage, especially during mass marriages,'' a circular sent by the Anti-Child Marriage Committee to other state government departments said.
The decision comes after some officials noticed incidents of forged admit cards and birth certificates used for the purpose, especially during mass marriages.
Former member of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights Nina Nayak said the government should have explored other ways to counter the problem and termed the decision to be a knee-jerk reaction,
â€śBone age study using the X-ray can help determining the age but it is not accurate. It gives two years of approximation. So only in those cases where physically the appearance is in doubt if it is done it is worth it, Moreover, the idea is not feasible, We should have a more holistic approach,â€ť Nayak told TNM.
She cited the example of Rajasthan government where the government has framed laws to make a larger section of people liable. So even the person who prints invitation cards are held accountable and will be penalised if he does not verify the age of the bride and groom.
She also suggested that governments should explore and make sure girls are not a â€śburdenâ€ť for their families.
â€śInstead of that they should empower girls after school. 14-18 year olds should have some forms of vocational training with a stipend so that they are not seen as a burden to their family. If you tell that RTE is only till 14 years of age. What does the girl do the time when she is between 14-18?â€ť she asked.
Kathyayini Chamaraj, Executive Trustee at CIVIC, also expressed her doubts about the new step.
â€śI think this might help as bone density can help determine the age, but more than that something simpler can solve the problem. It has been proposed that marriages in India should be conducted taking a license from the tehsildar or gazetted government officers,â€ť Chamaraj told TNM.
â€śBefore conducting the marriage the licensee should give the age certificates in order to acquire a licence. It is the norm in many countries. This licensing system could be simpler and easier to implement,â€ť she added.
Speaking with TNM, Suresh, a social worker working with The Association for Promoting Social Action had reservations about using certificates as a way to ascertain the right age.
â€śOften the mandatory birth certificate or the admit cards are not there during marriages in rural areas. Sometimes, they do not have their birth certificates or have never gone to school and hence they would neither have the admit cards or birth certificates,â€ť Suresh told TNM.
However, he added, if the directive is enforced strictly it might prevent child marriages.
The Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights in January, 2017 had said that almost one out of four child marriages in India (23.2%) occur in Karnataka, quoting an Union Health ministry survey.
A majority of these marriages are held in the north-western part of the state in districts of Bidar, Kalaburagi, Yadgir, Raichur and Koppal districts. In the first four months of 2017, more than 107 cases of prevention of child marriages and six cases of child marriages were registered in the Hyderabad-Karnataka region.