Bengaluru: Karnataka is not just grappling with the Covid-19 outbreak, but is also faced with an “abnormal rise” in child marriage and child abuse complaints amid the lockdown.
Childline, a government-run helpline to report cases of children in distress, has received a total of 275 calls from across the state in a span of two weeks starting 25 March, when the lockdown came into effect — of these, 37 calls were complaints about child marriages, 32 about child abuse and 16 about emotional abuse/trauma inflicted on children.
Chairperson of Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (KSCPCR) Father Anthony Sebastian told ThePrint the “abnormal rise’’ in child marriages and child abuse is “alarming for such a short period of time’’.
The KSCPCR has sought a detailed investigation into all the calls received by the Childline.
“These numbers are very alarming for such a short period of time. We have received the data from Childline and are in the process of cross-verifying and investigating each and every call. After that, we will take appropriate action,” he told ThePrint.
“A lot of complaints of child marriages have been received from various districts, including Bidar, Bagalkot and Kalburgi,” he added.
Cases in Mysuru
Citing the example of Mysuru district alone, a Childline official, who didn’t want to be named, said in one week — from 13 April to 20 April — the helpline received eight complaints of child marriages.
Out of these complaints, FIR has also been lodged in two cases, added the official.
E. Dhananjaya, a member of the Mysuru Child Welfare Committee (CWC) — a quasi-judicial government body investigating crimes against children — said people have been conducting child marriages without any fear of law during the lockdown.
Dhananjaya said there were instances where in the name of conducting poojas in temples, young girls were married off.
Although temples are supposed to be shut during lockdown, in some villages they are still open.
“There was a case (Tuesday this week) in Mysuru’s Udbur village where a 16-year-old girl was married to a 30-year-old man. We received information about the marriage, but due to the lockdown, we couldn’t reach the place on time. By the time we reached there, the marriage had been conducted. (But) We traced the families later and filed an FIR,” Dhananjaya said.
The family members of both the girl and the man were traced Tuesday, and an FIR lodged the same day.
In another incident that took place last Sunday in Hallare village in Nanjangud in the district, a 16-year-old girl was married off at a temple early in the morning, said Dhananjaya. An FIR was filed in the case the same day after a villager informed the CWC about the marriage.
“When our officials questioned them (the families) about the marriage, they denied. But we soon found photographs of the marriage and booked a case against the parents (of both the sides),” Dhananjaya added.
‘In every crisis… people try to dispose their young girls’
A second Childline official said that at a time when police and government are busy containing the spread of Covid-19, “children are being forced into marriages”.
“This is the time when all efforts are going into controlling the pandemic. While their attention is diverted, children are being forced into marriages. Most of the marriages were stopped by vigilant officials, there may be several that go unreported,” the official said.
Child rights activists said families are using this pandemic as a way to get their young girls married off.
“In every crisis situation like drought, we see a spike in child marriages. People try to literally dispose of their young girls from homes. Child marriages take place to get free labour at home, to take care of elders in families and to also ensure that the men of the house do not go elsewhere seeking love,” said Vasudeva Sharma, state convener, Initiatives for Married Adolescent Girls’ Empowerment (IMAGE), a project to address early marriage of girls in Karnataka.
“Another reason why we see such secretive child marriages at this time is because the cost of conducting them would be very low, which is otherwise an expensive affair,” Sharma added.