Priests to certify age of brides in Bihar to check child marriage
The Bihar government is also proposing to make biometric identification Aadhaar mandatory for brides and grooms and ward councillors accountable if any child marriage is reported from their respective areas.
Priests solemnising marriages in Bihar will now double up as social reformers to ensure success of the state government’s big ticket campaign against child marriage.
“They will have to give an undertaking that marriages solemnised by them had been done in accordance with the law and the age of brides was 18 years or above,” Sunil Kumar, director, social welfare, said.
“Once the priests are asked to give undertaking about the age of brides, child marriages will stop to a large extent,” Kumar said.
The government was also proposing to make biometric identification Aadhaar mandatory for brides and grooms and ward councillors accountable if any child marriage was reported from their respective areas, he added.
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar had on October 2 kicked off a statewide campaign to abolish child marriage and dowry, saying “unless such evils are tackled, the society cannot reap the full benefits of developmental initiatives.”
Kumar also called upon the people to join hands to form a human chain on January 21, 2018 against child marriage and dowry.
While prevalence of child marriage in Bihar is high due to social and economic factors, the state is second to Uttar Pradesh in dowry related cases, as per official data.
Though there is no official data available on the number of priests who solemnise marriages among Hindus and Muslims, the social welfare department officer said it would not be a difficult job to get the details.
“We are in the process of contacting the religious trust board that keeps records of temples and priests as well as the waqf board. We will register the priests through these bodies and assign them the new role of furnishing undertaking about bride’s age during marriages,” Kumar said.
He said the department wanted to identify pundits and maulvis in rural areas where child marriage was common due to social factors and economic backwardness. Furnishing Aadhaar details by brides and grooms during the marriage to priests is another step being considered to check child marriage, he added.
“Aadhaar is a handy tool for identification as it carries details of birth of a person. In Bihar, the Aadhaar coverage is high, especially in the age group of 18-60. So, the prospective brides and grooms would not have any problem in furnishing the document,” the officer added.
He said ward councillors and panchayat members were also being sensitized to play the role of watchdogs and report any incident of child marriage in their area for further action by the authorities concerned.
The job of creating awareness against child marriage has also been given to women self-help group Jeevika , vikas mitras, women development corporation and cultural teams, he said, adding that child marriage cases would drop drastically by these initiatives within a year and bring a big social change.