Come Akshay Tritiya, thousands of people will tie the knot at mass marriage ceremonies to be held across Madhya Pradesh.
However, the pomp and colour of the festivities hide a dark secret – that of unwitting minors being married off secretly when they should be out making the most of their childhood.
In order to prevent child marriages on the auspicious occasion, the district administration has asked everybody involved – from priests and wedding card printers to caterers and marriage hall owners – to verify the age of both the bride and the groom, and inform the authorities if find anything amiss.
Besides this, the commissioner of the state woman empowerment department has also directed district collectors across the state to take relevant steps in this regard.
Many children are wedded off during the Akshay Tritiya, which falls on April 21 this year.
Officials say that parents – mostly from rural areas – use the cover of mass marriages to flout governmental norms.
Though officials do manage to stop such incidents on a few occasions, many others go unnoticed due to lack of awareness among the people.
Sanjay Bhardwaj, women empowerment officer, Indore, said that the directive issued clearly tell every district collector to make mass marriage organisers sign affidavits declaring that they will not allow child marriages at events held by them.
"Similarly, the administration has also requested various service providers, such as marriage invitation card printers, caterers, tent house owners and even the priest, to verify certain documents depicting proof of age before undertaking any task," he added.
"The documents that can be considered include the Class 10 marksheet; birth certificate issued by a competent government authority; or the anganwadi centre record. If they don't have any of these documents, the party may present a medical certificate from the health department as age proof," Bhardwaj elaborated.
The officer said that if any of these persons find that the bride or the groom is not of legal marriageable age, they must refrain from offering their services. "They should also report the matter to the district administration, so we can prevent it from happening," he added.