International Women’s day events in the state of Andhra Pradesh had a meaningful culmination this year with the Minister of Panchayati Raj, Mr. J.C. Diwakar Reddy promising to enforce implementation of the Compulsory Registration of Marriages Act at the Panchayat level.
The occasion was an advocacy event organized by UNICEF Hyderabad Field office to commemorate Women’s Day- 2007, by way of a panel discussion on Maa TV (a private Telugu Channel). Besides the minister, the panelists included experts and government officials involved with the issue at various levels.
Prof. S. Galab from the Centre for Economic and Social Studies drew the attention of the panelists to the fact that 54.7 per cent of girls are married below the age of 18. Dr. Prakasamma of the Academy of Nursing Studies stressed that the social pressures on a newly married woman, irrespective of her age, to conceive within the first six months of marriage lead to poor maternal and child health outcomes.
Ms. Jhansi, the show anchor raised the issue of birth registration, without which the very purpose of compulsory registration of marriage will be defeated. Answering this issue, Ms. Y. Anuradha, Director of Women’s Development and Child Welfare pointed out that registration of births and marriages are the responsibility of the Panchayat department. At the ground level, coordination between the departments needed to be ensured for universal birth registration as well as compulsory registration of marriages.
Advocate Ms. Vanaja who has been in the forefront of preventing mass child marriages in some of the districts in A. P. informed the minister that government officials were abdicating their responsibilities by referring to the Child Marriages Act of 1929. Recalling her experience, she said that many district collectors were not aware of the new Act pertaining to child marriage. Describing the 1929 Act as archaic, Ms. Jamuna, a noted child rights activist also reiterated this point and urged minister to consider Andhra Pradesh Compulsory Marriage registration Act, 2002 for immediate and monitored enforcement.
The discussion also included testimonies of girls from Medak district, who refused to get married before 18 years. This brought out the impact of sensitizing girls and reflected the efforts of UNICEF interventions through village planning project in the district of Medak.
Concluding from everyone’s viewpoints, Ms. Jhansi, appealed to the minister to take appropriate action. Enforcing compulsory registration of marriages would effectively give legal remedies in the hands of girls and it would also create community vigilance and accountability.
In response, the Minister observed that it is the mindset that encourages child marriages; but enforcement of legal measures would act as strong deterrent. He said that by April 15, every Panchayat secretary in the state will be instructed and the Compulsory Registration of Marriages Act will be enforced in the state and those who do not comply will be penalized.
This assurance on Woman’s Day ushered in new hopes for the girl children in Andhra Pradesh!