The state recorded the second-highest incidence of the crime with 44 cases in 2014

Keeping Ktaka children out of wedlock The everyday struggle of anti-child marriage activistsImage for representation only
news Child marriage Tuesday, May 03, 2016 - 10:31

It was a sweltering Tuesday on April 26, when four activists from Childline, a helpline for children in distress set up by Don Bosco Pyar in Kalaburagi district, set off to Kalaburugi taluk to stop a 16-year-old girl’s marriage. They had done this many times before, with Don Bosco Pyar having handled over 15 cases just in 2016. But, on this occasion, they were confronted by a situation more extreme than they had experienced before.

Tipped-off about the planned wedding in a religious mutt in Gobburwadi, the activists reached the village at noon. “The marriage hadn’t happened yet, but sadly we couldn’t stop it either,” says Jyoti, an activist on ground that day.

As soon as the team entered the religious mutt, she says, their phones were snatched and they were confined in a room for 2 hours. “Cornering us, using the most distasteful language, they tried getting us to spill out the informer’s identity, she explains.

“We were certainly startled when they threatened to even burn us if we didn’t comply. But we had to put on a poker face and stay calm,” she adds. Meanwhile, the 16-year-old girl was quickly married off to a 21-year-old man, leaving Jyoti and her colleagues helpless. 

The girl, however, is now safe at the Kalaburagi government rescue home, while the parents of both the girl and the boy, along with the mutt’s manager were arrested, once the police hurried to the spot. “The same informer called us once he got to know about the activists’ confinement,” says Father Prasad Zavier, Project director for Don Bosco Pyar.

“The worst part is that once we entered the place to save our team, the girl’s family almost fooled us into thinking that the girl was of age, showing her elder sister’s birth certificate,” he adds.

According to data released by the National Crime Records Bureau, India has seen 671 cases of child marriage between 2012 and 2014. Karnataka, which is known to have the highest incidence of the crime after Tamil Nadu, recorded 44 cases in 2014.

While these alarming statistics are accompanied by the rise of various child protection services, the stories behind their work are anything but placid.  

For instance, Ganapathi MM from ‘Concerned for Working Children (CWC)’ shares a story similar to the Childline experience in Kalaburagi, which, he says, changed his outlook about child marriage.

“It was in 1997, when one of our activists approached a community in Harpanahalli, to save a young bride,” the assistant director to a team under the non-profit organisation, narrates. “The entire community forcibly chased him out of the vicinity, with the girl coerced into matrimony. However, a year later when the child died during an early pregnancy, the mother realized her mistake,” he continues.

He says the girl’s mother then joined CWC’s efforts, speaking out against child marriage to various communities in the state.

Father Zavier says that the main excuse they often hear from families for conducting child marriages is poverty. Families use the pretext of poverty to argue that activists should work towards poverty alleviation instead of bothering about child marriages, he says.

“Usually when we go to these families to stop such marriages, they speak about how poor they are, often turning the tables by accusing us of focusing only on such issues rather than their economic status,” he says.

The other main problem activists face is in those cases where a minor girl seems to be in love with a man, and the parents plan a marriage with another man to keep their reputations. Says Father Zavier, “In such cases the parents put us in a very delicate position when they ask us if we’d help them if the girl runs away with another man. However, we still try to reason with the parents and stop the marriage.”

“It is not an easy kind of a situation that we walk into,” he adds. “There are very many nuances involved with this kind of work.”

But their work does not always end in frustration and disappointment, say activists. Jyoti, for instance, talks about the time her team went to Hasargundagi village in Afzalpur Taluk, Kalaburagi thanks to a tip-off three days before a wedding. “Though they did get angry in the beginning, we were able to make them understand the consequences of the social-evil, after which they agreed to stop the marriage,” she recalls.

Signing a letter of undertaking, the family agreed to the possibility of arrest if they broke the law. “Cases like these are the reasons why we do this,” she smiles.

 

News, views and interviews- Follow our election coverage.

Click TN Election Special

Click Kerala Election Special

Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.