pandemic has had an adverse repercussion on the lives of hundreds of teenage girls across Maharashtra. Data from the state’s women and child development (WCD) department has revealed that child marriages in the state have increased by 78.3% until September this year as compared to the same period in 2019.Experts have attributed the spike to the growing poverty owing to the lockdown imposed to control the spread of the virus, which has forcing girls out of schools and into work or marriage.

“Child marriage is considered as one of the reasons for early pregnancy and malnutrition among children.Activists believe that the numbers are just the tip of the iceberg, as numerous ceremonies have gone unreported owing to the strict lockdown measures, limitations on gatherings and law enforcement bodies such as the police being busy on Covid-19 and lockdown-related duties.According to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006, child marriage is illegal in India and the marriage of girls below 18 years and boys below 21 is a punishable offence.

The maximum number of cases has been reported from 17 districts of the state – Beed, Jalna, Aurangabad, Parbhani, Hingoli, Nanded, Ahmednagar, Latur, Buldhana, Dhule, Jalgaon, Nashik, Solapur, Osmanabad, Kolhapur, Sangli and Washim.

In June, the state government imposed a 50-people cap on wedding receptions, which made ceremonies extremely economical for poor farmers. It has been observed that since then, the incidents of child marriage have surged. Until June, there were 76 child marriage cases that were reported, but in the following three months, 138 new incidents were reported.“In India, the median age at first marriage is 19.7 years for women in the richest quintile compared to 15.4 for the poorest women,” states a UNICEF report.Maharashtra has a large number of sugarcane factories where many unemployed migrants look for jobs. But factory owners prefer couples over single individuals.This has become one of the reasons for migrant labourers getting married the girls.

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