One of India’s highly industrialized state, Haryana sees a steady rise in victims of child marriages in the last 3 years, according to official figures. Even as the government takes a creditable step in declaring child marriages “void abinitio” through the new law, the state ranked 15th in child marriages in the country according to Census 2011. Census 2011 reported around 2.5 lakh children were married off before reaching 18 years in the state, which constituted approximately 2% of all married children in the country. In order to fight against the practice, Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi’s Children’s Foundation (KSCF) announced their upcoming “Child Marriage Free India” campaign at Haryana Niwas in Chandigarh today. The state consultation was held to mobilise all stakeholders of child protection to move together and help in the realisation of Child Marriage-Free India. KSCF co-organised the consultation with Department of Women & Child Development (WCD), Government of Haryana. KSCF began nationwide consultations after the recent appeal by Kailash Satyarthi for a sustained campaign across the country to make India child marriage-free.
At the state-level consultation the key points discussed were appointment of Child Marriage Prohibition Officer (CMPO), mandatory FIR registration in cases of child marriage and incentivization of parents to motivate them to not marry their under-age children.
The National Family Health Survey-V (NFHS 2019-21) reports that nationally 23.3% women between the age group of 20-24 were married off before attaining the age of 18. In this context, it is important to highlight the status of child marriage in Haryana, according to the report of National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2021. During the last 3 years, victims of child marriages in the state rose from 20 in 2019 to 33 in 2021. The NCRB data, however reported that only 86 cases of child marriages were registered under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA), 2006. This means there has been gross under-reporting of child marriage cases, also as Haryana reports a poor sex-ratio, there have been cases of minor girls being trafficked into the state for child marriage. This was highlighted from the recent case in Kaithal in May this year, where a 14-year old girl from Bihar was trafficked and sold as a child bride in the state.
In this context, the consultation deliberated on pertinent issues linked to child marriage and legal applications to stop the evil practice. Among the key issues discussed in the consultations included mandatory registration of FIR in cases of child marriage to ensure appropriate action takes place, linking child marriage with Juvenile Justice (care and protection) Act and POCSO Act for penalising the perpetrators of crime. Further, it was deliberated on appointment of CMPO at the district level across the country and adequate and proper training to the official and incentivization for the parents.
Key dignitaries present on this occasion included Commissioner and Secretary, WCD, Government of Haryana, Amneet Preet Kumar and Country Head, Access to Justice Programme, KSCF-US, Ravi Kant among others.
Highlighting the poor state of education among girls in the state, Commissioner and Secretary, WCD, Government of Haryana, Amneet Preet Kumar said, “Around to 40 to 45 percent girls in the state do not receive secondary or higher education and so they are incapable of contributing in the development of the state. And this issue has become a challenge for us and needs to be changed. The campaign to stop child marriage should be taken up at village level and all departments and NGOs should come together to make Haryana child marriage free. KSCF should prepare a work plan in accordance to the finding report on today’s discussion”.
Welcoming the recent move of the state government in declaring child marriages as “void abinitio”, Country Head, Access to Justice Programme, KSCF-US Ravi Kant, said, “Sex-ratio in Haryana being one of the poorest in the country, cases of child marriages continue to be seen in the state. I hope the new law will benefit the state government in curbing this illegal practice after its enforcement. However, it is now the responsibility of all stakeholders including the law enforcement agencies and civil society groups to collaborate and work collectively to make a child marriage free Haryana”.