KOLKATA: A survey conducted across several districts in West Bengal has indicated that a rising awareness against dowry is fuelling the incidence of child marriage and trafficking.
The survey was conducted by Women’s Studies Research Centre (WSRC); the Department of Sociology, Burdwan University; and Centre for Women’s Studies, University of North Bengal, supported by the West Bengal Government’s Department of Women and Child Development and Social Welfare and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
“We found that the traffickers approach the villagers in the guise of grooms without any dowry demand and lure them into marrying off even minor girls,” said Ishita Mukhopadhyay, Director, WSRC, Calcutta University. “The girls are then sold and sent to other places like Mumbai, Dubai or Kashmir,” she added.
“The problem is compounded by the fact that West Bengal lies on the vulnerable international trafficking route, a fact acknowledged by the United Nations, with Kolkata itself becoming a significant source and destination for traffickers,” Dr. Mukhopadyay said.
“The elderly women in the villages acknowledge that child marriages were not so prevalent earlier.” She said that once married, even minor girls were treated as women and they did not enjoy child rights any more.The data quoted in the report (sourced from the 2001Census and the National Family Health Survey) shows a high incidence of child marriage in the State 39.16 per cent compared to the national average of 32.10 per cent. “Though the Social Welfare Department has been organising awareness campaigns at the block and anganwadi levels, it is hard to eradicate the problem,” the department’s Principal Secretary S.N. Haque said.
While the Government’s focus is on economic empowerment of women through vocational training, and providing financial incentives to prevent girls from dropping out of high school, Dr. Mukhopadhyay felt that police action was needed to reign in traffickers. “There are, after all, hardly any trafficking cases that are registered with the police,” she said.