Official nod legitimises child marriages in Koppal

Nipped in the bud: Marriages of minors are rampant in the State

The certificate given by the Kuknoor Gram Panchayat as proof of age of a bride and groom. DH photo

In recent times, more couples below the legal age for marriage entering wedlock in mass marriage programmes is causing concern among activists working to prevent child marriages.

According to a survey, one major reason why people get their wards married in mass wedding programmes is the inducements given by organisers. The allurements come in the form of clothes for the bride and groom, ‘thali’ and free food for invitees from the side of both the bride and the groom.

The marriage of a whopping 44.7 per cent of girl children takes place in their teens, says the report of the district level health survey conducted in 2008. Poverty and lack of awareness among the people are the other factors responsible for the growing number of child marriages.

As many as 900 couples entered marital life between November 2010 and April 2011 in the district. Of these, 97 couples were below the legal age for marriage, said Harish Jogi, co-ordinator for children’s protection training programme of Unicef.

However, the silver lining to an otherwise dark cloud, according to Jogi, is that the
number of child marriages in the district has come down to 10 per cent of the total marriages, from 20 to 25 per cent five years ago, thanks to the concerted efforts of the various departments.

The trend is more pronounced  in Koppal, Yalburga and Kushtagi taluks of the district.
In Gangavathi taluk, those conducting child marriages have found an ‘escape route’. The fear of being caught has led the organisers to send the clothes, ‘thali’ and other gifts to the homes of the brides and the grooms, where the marriages are conducted.

Some officials are doling out age certificates for those brides and grooms getting married below the legal age, even though they do not have the authority to issue the certificates. Such officials include the panchayat development officers and the Gram Panchayat (GP) secretaries.

The GP secretaries are authorised to issue only the certificates of one’s place of residence.

Revenue officials say that only the school records or the certificates issued by the office of the registrar of births and deaths are valid proof of age. The affidavits issued by the courts are also considered valid proof of age. But officials have started a rather illegal practice of mentioning the age of the bride or groom in the certificate of the place of residence, they say.

One such instance was detected at Kuknoor in the district on April 28, when a child marriage was being conducted at a mass marriage programme.

It is important that the GP secretaries and the panchayat development officers are told in no uncertain terms that they are not empowered to issue age proof certificates, say activists. The time for the authorities concerned to act is now, they add.

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