Child brides continue to be Kerala’s secret shame, despite its hugely applauded human development indices and other laurels, if the latest available data are anything to go by.

Data from the last Census in 2011 released last fortnight by the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India show there were 23,183 married girls below the age of 15 years in the State. In other words, 0.604 per cent of all girls in the State aged between 12 and 15 had entered wedlock prematurely and illegally. And these are just the officially captured figures.

Amplifying the health threat, the data also say that as many as 10,175 children were born to these child brides in the State.

Malappuram, the most populous district in the State, logged the highest number (3,615) of married girls below age 15. But in percentage terms, this is below the overall State average (0.604).

The districts exceeding the State average are Pathanamthitta (0.808 pc), Alappuzha (0.735 pc), Thiruvananthapuram (0.730 pc), Kollam (0.667 pc) and Kannur (0.665 pc). While Malappuram had a 0.594 per cent incidence, Thrissur had the lowest figure of 0.493 per cent.

Detecting and stopping child marriages are still a huge challenge to the dozens of Child Marriage Prohibition Officers (CMPOs) who have been appointed in the wake of enactment of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act in 2006.

Sources say tacit approval to theData from the last Census in 2011 released last fortnight by the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India show there were 23,183 married girls below the age of 15 years in the Statese illegal marriages from local political and religious leaders remains as much a hurdle for CMPOs, as do the very secretive nature of many such weddings. Lack of prosecutable evidence and lack of cooperation by the families, neighbours and community leaders compound the situation.

“We find it really difficult since family members, neighbours, local politicians and even the local community leaders refuse to cooperate, in most cases. In some instances, some CMPOs have even been made scapegoats for stepping in. In most cases it is tough to gather evidence strong enough to stand in court – so convictions, naturally, are very rare,” one of the 29 CMPOs working in Malappuram district told The Hindu.

Yet, data from the Social Justice Department indicate that despite these impediments, child marriages were being increasingly prevented in Malappuram. When CMPOs in Malappuram could thwart only three child marriages in 2011, they could prevent as many as 37 in 2012, and 63 in 2013. The number of aborted child marriages touched 100 in 2014. “As of end-August this year, we have stopped 49 child marriages,” she said.

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