Child marriages on the rise in Tamil Nadu amid Covid: Study

Chennai, June 11 (IANS) With the Covid pandemic creating a financial crisis and parents finding it difficult to make ends meet, girls under the marriageable age are being married off in the state.
A study conducted by the NGO Child Rights and You (CRY) found that child marriage is rampant in the districts of Dharmapuri, Salem, Ramanathapuram and Dindugal in the state.
The study states that there could be a higher number of child marriages in these districts that had witnessed 318 cases of child marriage in May 2020, a whopping 40 percent increase from May 2019.
The month of May is considered most auspicious for marriages in Tamil Nadu and the figures for May 2021 are yet to be compiled. However, there was a worrying trend in the number of girls getting married off citing poverty of parents and other reasons.
According to CRY, in May 2019 Salem district recorded 60 child marriages while in May 2020 the figure was 98. Dharmapuri district had 150 cases in May 2019 and in May 2020 the figure was 192.
In the 2011 census it was reported that in Tamil Nadu, 8.26% of girls in the age group of 6-19 were married off. Statistics show that Dharmapurai (11.6%) and Salem (10.9%) are the two districts with the highest number of child marriages.
M Jayam, Director, Salem People’s Trust working in Dharmapuri and Salem districts, told IANS, “Most of the parents don’t have any cash and they find that during the lockdown period they can conduct the marriage cheaply. Marriages are held spending less than Rs 20000 and parents cite this as an excuse to marry off the girl.”
She said that more than the tribal hamlets in these districts, the study by her organization at the grassroot level found that the urban areas are more prone to these child marriages.
She said, “We are trying our best to prevent these marriages reporting to the local police station and bringing to the notice of the district administration but these marriages are held in secrecy and the general public is not aware of such a thing happening as there are no invitees except the close relatives of the bride and groom.”
John Roberts of CRY said that as there was a 40% increase in child marriages in May 2020 when compared to May 2019, the 2021 figures will be disturbing as local level volunteers are reporting an increasing trend as child marriages are considered as an easy way for the parents to fulfil their responsibilities.
Dr Bindu Menon, Clinical Psychologist at Salem, told IANS, ” Until and unless there is a feeling that girl children are assets and not liabilities, the child marriages will tend to increase. Covid and lockdown have added to these woes and bright girl children are being married off at a tender age without knowing what was happening to them. The police and district administrations must take a very rigid and strong stand to curb this inhuman act.”
Padmanabhan M, an officer heading a police station in Dharmapuri district, said, “We are trying our best to prevent this but most of these marriages are held in utmost secrecy. We have brought some parents to book and charged them but it’s only the tip of the iceberg.”
Another major issue facing the state will be the children who are orphaned during Covid and the possibility of such children falling victims to child racketeers.

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