54% marriages in West Bengal are of minors

Jhimli Mukherjee Pandey & Dwaipayan Ghosh, TNN | Sep 25, 2013, 03.52AM IST

KOLKATA: Bengal is among the top four states in the country when it comes to child marriage.

A nation-wide survey by the Centre has revealed that of the total marriages that take place in Bengal, 54.7% are of minor girls, taking the state to the fourth place with Uttar Pradesh in the National Family Health Survey.

The findings of the study were recently shared with Breakthrough, an NGO, that is partnering with the Centre to sensitize the states against child marriage.

According to the survey, that is based on 2007- 08 data, of the total marriages that take place in Bengal at least 54.7 per cent are of underage children.

Bihar has topped the list with 68.2% minor marriages per cent followed by Rajasthan with 57.6% and Jharkhand 55.7% child marriages. The figures of Bengal and UP tally.

A further break-up or simplication of the data shows that the number of child marriages in the rural areas is much higher than in the urban areas. While 57.9% of the rural marriages in Bengal are child marriages, the figure of minor marriages – 36.1% – is much lower in case of total urban marriages. and stands at only 36.1%.

The total number of underage married girls, who have also become mothers before attaining the age of 15 in Bengal, stands at a whopping 27,082, which is the second highest in the country after Bihar where the number is 31,665.

Breakthrough is currently collaborating with the Ministry of women and child development to sensitize the people against child marriage. Work has already started in Bihar and Jharkhand and is expected to reach Bengal soon. "We have been spreading awareness about domestic violence and it's then that we found that most of the victims are underage married girls. This is when we researched on the child marriage data and found that if domestic violence has to stop, the issue of child marriage needs to be addressed," said Sonali Khan, spokesperson of Breakthrough from Delhi.

The findings of the survey are backed by the data collected by government agencies. The National Crime Records Bureau, that has recently released data for 2012, has mentioned how a total of 88 arrests, related to child marriage, were carried out by the cops in Bengal this state between 2008-12. And this figure, incidentally, is the highest in the country.

While a total of 21 persons were arrested in connection with child marriage in 2011, a phenomenal 35 persons were held in 2012. Both Malda and Murshidabad have recorded seven arrests each in 2012. A year earlier, 10 persons were arrested from Murshidabad and six from Malda.

North Dinajpur, though, topped the list in 2012 with 21 cases and eight arrests. Incidents of child marriages and subsequent arrests were reported from the districts of North 24-Parganas, Burdwan, Cooch Behar, Howrah City, West Midnapore and East Midnapore also in 2012the same year.

Police said that all crime against children were somewhat linked to child marriage. "Take the example of Murshidabad. In 2012, when over 17 cases were officially acted upon by us, we also registered 209 cases of kidnapping and 80 cases of procuration of minor girls. This is a larger social malaise where daughters are yet to equal sons,'' said a CID official who did not wish to be named.

"Malda is one of the top three districts in terms of child marriage. In a survey conducted by the Burdwan University using police findings, it was revealed that 42% percent of the total child marriages in Bengal take place at Malda," said a CID officer. Cops confirmed that in Malda, a total of 24 child marriages were prevented since July, 2012. However, of this, at least six girls child brides were later married off by their families.

"A 10-year-old student of class 3 of Laxmighat village under Narhatta gram panchayat was married off by her family after her first marriage was thwarted on 2 November, 2012. Rozina Khutun, daughter of Abdul Khaleq of Manikchak was also married to the grom chosen by her family after her marriage was prevented by child line on 1 November. In both cases FIRs were asked to be lodged by the district social welfare officer but no arrests have been made so far. "The entire village gets united and it gets difficult to even get a proper eyewitness to the case,'' claimed a cop.