Joint efforts by government and non-governmental organisations such as Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), the Women and Child Welfare Department and Rural Development Trust (RDT) have helped the district stop 2,218 child marriages in the five years since 2018-19.
In 2018-19, the district could stop 450 child marriages, 430 in 2019-20, 460 in 2020-21, and 418 in 2021-22. During the recently concluded financial year, the district stopped 460 child marriages, the highest in Andhra Pradesh. All other districts did not cross the double digit.
There is always a criticism that the number of child marriages is far more than what is stopped, but the ICDS is making all efforts to educate mothers, villagers and girls entering their teens to not perform/agree to child marriages, said ICDS project director B.N. Sridevi. “The mandals close to Karnataka border are the worst affected as, in some cases, even after an undertaking is obtained from the boy, the girl and the parents of both, they run away to Karnataka and the families surreptitiously perform the marriage,” she explained, adding that this happened mostly among migrant families.
Giving the details of the child marriages stopped and the special efforts made by the district child protection officer and child development project officers on the ground, Ms. Sridevi said they had had seven First Information Reports (FIRs) registered and the cases were being investigated. She said 80% of the calls they get for stopping child marriages come from 1098 Childline, which is run by RDT in Aanantapur. The NGO works in 40 mandals of the undivided Anantpaur district. The remaining alerts and interventions come from NGOs Praja Seva Samaj of Kadiri (working in 10 mandals) and HANDS in Gooty (working in 10 Mandals), she explained.
Many girls are sent to child protection homes after their marriages are stopped, if officials feel that the girls would be forced into marriage if left at their own homes. Officials of different line departments also keep a tab on the parents to ensure compliance to their undertaking.