Hyderabad, March 2: The scourge of child marriage has destroyed millions of lives in India, especially girl children. Last year, the Supreme Court had expressed its dismay over an alarming figure of 23 million child brides in the country. In our patriarchal society, the root of child marriage lies in traditional, cultural and religious practices.
The widespread practice of child marriage can be gauged from the fact that in the last 11 months, 24 child marriages were stopped by the SHE Teams under the Hyderabad Police in the outskirts of the city. Activists fear the actual number of child marriages is more as most cases go unreported.
According to reports, Rachakonda police with the help of SHE Teams have stopped 24 child marriages in the past 11 months in areas like Bhongir and Choutuppal which are not far away from Hyderabad city. All the illegal marriages had the consent of the parents of minor girls.
Speaking to reporters recently, Rachakonda Police Commissioner Mahesh M Bhagwat said the rescue operations were conducted by the local police in collaboration with SHE Teams in the rural areas under Rachakonda limits.
He added that in rural areas of Telangana people still perform child marriages. The top cop cited that poverty and lack of awareness are the main reasons behind people marrying off their daughters before they attain the age of 18.
Police figures show that most of the cases were reported in Bhongir and Choutuppal areas. "In order to bring down the child marriages, we have conducted several awareness camps and explained the problems the girl undergoes if she is married before the age of 18," said Bhagwat. A dedicated WhatsApp number 9490617111 is available for the public to raise complaints on child marriages in the state.
In India, child marriage is a punishable offence under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006. It's a violation of child rights. Under the act, those (especially parents and relatives of children) who are found guilty of the offence are subjected to punishment of two years imprisonment besides Rs 1 lakh fine.
Because of child marriage, hundreds of girl children in India are stopped from going to school and complete their education. Moreover, a lot of child brides get pregnant at an early age resulting in various serious health issues.
Last year, while the apex court criminalised sex with a minor wife stated that more than one out of every five marriages violates provisions of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act and the Hindu Marriage Act. The top court also expressed concern over the health of the girl child saying a child bride is more than doubly prone to health problems than a grown-up woman.
"The World Health Organisation, in a Report dealing with the issue of child brides found that though 11 per cent of the births worldwide are among adolescents, they account for 23 per cent of the overall burden of diseases. Therefore, a child bride is more than doubly prone to health problems than a grown-up woman," it said.
On October 24, 2014, the SHE Teams were launched in Hyderabad with the aim to fight against crimes against women and girls and provide safety and security to them.
A SHE Team comprises a male or female sub-inspector, a woman police constable, and three other police constables.
As a part of their work, they carry hidden cameras for video-recording. Since the formation of the SHE Teams, crimes against women/girls in Hyderabad have reduced by at least 20 per cent. After achieving success in curbing crimes against women in Hyderabad, SHE Teams have been formed in all districts and commissionerates of Telangana.
In fact, six other states--Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh--have also replicated the idea of SHE Team under different names. A total of 100 SHE Teams are working across Telangana.