Chitrakonda: An alarming rise in child marriages has been seen among the most vulnerable tribals residing in villages under the ‘Swabhiman Anchal’ of Chitrakonda block in Malkangiri district. Sources said, most girls are being forced to get married before reaching the age of 18.
Even as the Central government recently raised the minimum legal age of marriage for women to 21 and for men to 23 years; teenage girls in these villages are forced to marry as soon as they attain the tender age of 13-15. On the other hand, there has been a drastic increase in crimes against women and children, especially cases of domestic violence and child marriages.
Moreover, during the pandemic, with closure of schools and discontinuation of midday meals, several parents from weaker economic background opted to marry off their girl children.
Ralegada panchayat under Chitrakonda block reported the highest number of child marriages thanks to lack of awareness, silence of officials concerned, people representatives’ and intellectuals. Recently, a 14-year-old girl of Panasaput village was married off to a youth from RSC-13 under Nuaguda panchayat. Similarly, another 14-yearold girl from Tatipar village under Ralegada panchayat was forced to marry a youth from Sakrubandha village.
Swinging into action, CDPO Hajar along with his team reached the village and called off the marriage after he came to know about it from a reliable source. The officials also spread awareness on the government’s initiative to stop child marriages. The parents of the girls were made to give a written undertaking that they would not force the girl to get married until she reached the marriageable age. The officials warned the girl’s parents of stringent action as per government rules if they dared to marry off the girl again.
Similarly, a 14-yearold girl of Kodigandhi village under Adirapali panchayat was married off to a youth from Ralegada village through ‘bride kidnapping’, despite protest by her parents. ‘Bride kidnapping’ also known as ‘marriage by abduction’ or ‘marriage by capture’, is a practice in which a man abducts the woman he wishes to marry. ‘Bride kidnapping’ has been practiced among the tribals since history and still exists and is most common in tribal-dominated villages.
The administration has been taking steps to rescue the girl after a complaint by her parents, but to no avail. “We have managed to stop two child marriages recently. But, there is more to do. Officials concerned do no work in the ground level. Moreover, they do not take action against the wrongdoers,” said Ralegada sarpanch Kamalu Hantal. Malkangiri Zilla Parishad chairperson Samir Tangul said, “Child marriage is a crime and strict action should be taken in this regard.”