Kerala child bride seeks legal help, but will the law come to her aid?

The Child Welfare Committee has to prove the legality of the marriage to intervene
Kerala child bride seeks legal help, but will the law come to her aid?
Kerala child bride seeks legal help, but will the law come to her aid?
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A 14-year-old girl from Thodupuzha in Idukki district has been sent to a shelter home run by the Child Welfare Committee, after she informed the police that she had allegedly been married off by her parents.

The CWC, however, has a problem at hand – to prove the legality of the marriage itself.

The girl, a native of Malappuram district had been married off a month ago and had been staying with her husband and his family in Thodupuzha.

Speaking to The News Minute, Idukki Women’s Cell SI, Susheela, said that she received a frantic call from the girl on Wednesday evening, requesting the police to help her.

“She managed to call us from a friend’s house and we immediately went and got her. Later that evening, she was handed over to the CWC,” SI Susheela says.

The CWC has now asked the police to investigate the issue and has also directed the Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights to look into the case.

CWC Chairperson Gopalakrishnan said that the girl and her mother’s statements were recorded on Friday.

“According to the girl’s statements, no formal wedding ceremony was held. She was made to wear a bangle by the groom’s family, which is a pre-wedding practice in the Muslim community. Though she has been living with the man since then, she confirmed that she was not sexually abused,” he says.

Though the girl has been sent to the shelter home where her basic needs including education and healthcare will be taken care of till the age of 18, Gopalakrishnan is unclear about the legality of the case.

He believes that many people utilize the loopholes in the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act to get away with child marriage.

“In this case, no formal wedding ceremony was held, which makes it difficult to prove the legality of the marriage. Also, the man is the girl’s relative. Her mother told us that she had sent her daughter to stay at the relative’s house,” Gopalakrishnan says.

For the first few days after she was brought to Thodupuzha, the girl, a class 10 student, was allowed by the husband's family to attend school. However, when the girl began to express displeasure at staying in the house, the family stopped sending her to school. On Wednesday, she grabbed the only chance she got in a month’s time to escape. And she reportedly ran out of the house. 

Gopalakrishnan says that since the committee was formed in 2006, they have received as many as 300 cases every year. A legal case is not filed in many cases, he points out. 

"Many cases are solved after the committee intervenes to educate the parents about the illegality of marrying off a minor. Such cases do not go to court," he says. 

Based on a 2011 census report, The Hindu reported in 2015 that Kerala has as many as 23,183 married girls under the age of 15. And these are only officially captured figures, the report adds. 

K Nazeer, member of Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights said that hardly four to five cases get registered with the Commission every year. 

"The complaints we receive are mostly reported by a third party, generally a neighbour. It is always a challenge to track the incidents and intervene," he says. 

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