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Maharashtra: Over 15,000 child marriages in three years

April 27, 2022
Dipta Joshi

Maharashtra witnessed 15,253 cases of child marriage and 6,582 malnutrition related deaths amongst children in the last three years alone. Alarmed by the data, the Bombay High Court on Monday asked the state government to sensitise the tribal community on girl child welfare and rights.

The Bombay High Court bench led by Chief Justice Dipankar Dutta and Justice V G Bisht has been hearing public interest litigations regarding the high number of malnutrition deaths in 16 tribal dominated areas of the state mainly Melghat and Dharni areas located in Amravati district. During an earlier hearing (March 14), the court had directed the state government to ascertain the cause of the child marriages in these districts following which the government set up a three-member committee.

The report presented by the government committee showed early marriages amongst the tribals was one of the main reasons for malnutrition related deaths amongst children during the period 2019-2022. In 601 cases of deaths due to malnutrition, the parents were victims of child marriage and the mother was a minor less than 18 years of age. 

While 26,059 cases of severe acute malnutrition were reported, as many as 1,10,674 cases of medium acute malnutrition were reported. State government authorities were successful in preventing 1,541 child marriages from taking place.   

Appalled at what the Court called “mind-boggling” statistics the bench stressed on the need to “Sensitise elders of the tribal communities and make them aware of the ill effects of the child marriages as well as violation of the rights of children as enumerated in multiple legislations.”

The Court also pulled up the government for failing to appoint the chairperson of the Child Rights Commission. The statutory body under the Commission for Protection for Child Rights Act, 2005 is meant to protect, promote and defend child rights in the state.

However, in the absence of the chairperson as well as the five members, the body has been non-functional since May 2020. It was only after several parents threatened to approach the courts that Rubal Agarwal, Commissioner of the Integrated child Development Service Scheme Maharashtra (ICDS) was asked to handle the additional charge in December 2021.

The Mumbai-based parents association – the Maharashtra Rajya Vidhyarthi Palak Shikshak Mahasangha, approached the Bombay High Court with a PIL asking for vacant Child Rights Commission posts to be filled and hearing of cases resumed at the earliest. On April 4, responding to a PIL filed by the Child Marriage Prohibition Committee, the state government assured the Court, all posts would be filled within six weeks.

Also read: Odisha child commission concerned over raising marriage age of women

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