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Amid Covid crisis, Karnataka sees ‘abnormal rise’ in child marriage, abuse complaints




Child bride
Parents are taking advantage of the lockdown in Karnataka to ‘force children into marriages’ as they know police are busy in Covid-19 duties (representational image) | Pixabay

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Bengaluru: Karnataka is not just grappling with the Covid-19 outbreak, but is also faced with an “abnormal rise” in child marriage and child abuse complaints amid the lockdown.

Childline, a government-run helpline to report cases of children in distress, has received a total of 275 calls from across the state in a span of two weeks starting 25 March, when the lockdown came into effect — of these, 37 calls were complaints about child marriages, 32 about child abuse and 16 about emotional abuse/trauma inflicted on children.

Chairperson of Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (KSCPCR) Father Anthony Sebastian told ThePrint the “abnormal rise’’ in child marriages and child abuse is “alarming for such a short period of time’’.

The KSCPCR has sought a detailed investigation into all the calls received by the Childline.

“These numbers are very alarming for such a short period of time. We have received the data from Childline and are in the process of cross-verifying and investigating each and every call. After that, we will take appropriate action,” he told ThePrint.

“A lot of complaints of child marriages have been received from various districts, including Bidar, Bagalkot and Kalburgi,” he added.

Also read: How the lockdown has unlocked rivalries and dissent in Karnataka’s BJP govt

Cases in Mysuru

Citing the example of Mysuru district alone, a Childline official, who didn’t want to be named, said in one week — from 13 April to 20 April — the helpline received eight complaints of child marriages.

Out of these complaints, FIR has also been lodged in two cases, added the official.

E. Dhananjaya, a member of the Mysuru Child Welfare Committee (CWC) — a quasi-judicial government body investigating crimes against children — said people have been conducting child marriages without any fear of law during the lockdown.

Dhananjaya said there were instances where in the name of conducting poojas in temples, young girls were married off. 

Although temples are supposed to be shut during lockdown, in some villages they are still open.

“There was a case (Tuesday this week) in Mysuru’s Udbur village where a 16-year-old girl was married to a 30-year-old man. We received information about the marriage, but due to the lockdown, we couldn’t reach the place on time. By the time we reached there, the marriage had been conducted. (But) We traced the families later and filed an FIR,” Dhananjaya said.

The family members of both the girl and the man were traced Tuesday, and an FIR lodged the same day.

In another incident that took place last Sunday in Hallare village in Nanjangud in the district, a 16-year-old girl was married off at a temple early in the morning, said Dhananjaya. An FIR was filed in the case the same day after a villager informed the CWC about the marriage. 

“When our officials questioned them (the families) about the marriage, they denied. But we soon found photographs of the marriage and booked a case against the parents (of both the sides),” Dhananjaya added.

‘In every crisis… people try to dispose their young girls’

A second Childline official said that at a time when police and government are busy containing the spread of Covid-19, “children are being forced into marriages”.

“This is the time when all efforts are going into controlling the pandemic. While their attention is diverted, children are being forced into marriages. Most of the marriages were stopped by vigilant officials, there may be several that go unreported,” the official said.

Child rights activists said families are using this pandemic as a way to get their young girls married off.

“In every crisis situation like drought, we see a spike in child marriages. People try to literally dispose of their young girls from homes. Child marriages take place to get free labour at home, to take care of elders in families and to also ensure that the men of the house do not go elsewhere seeking love,” said Vasudeva Sharma, state convener, Initiatives for Married Adolescent Girls’ Empowerment (IMAGE), a project to address early marriage of girls in Karnataka.

“Another reason why we see such secretive child marriages at this time is because the cost of conducting them would be very low, which is otherwise an expensive affair,” Sharma added.

Also read: ‘Understand meaning of Lakshman Rekha’ — Karnataka Police bans vehicles during lockdown


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Andhra doctor, suspended for alleging PPE shortage, now beaten by cops for ‘creating nuisance’




doctor with a stethoscope
A doctor with a stethoscope (Representative image) | Pixabay

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Bengaluru: A doctor with a government hospital in Andhra Pradesh, who was suspended for questioning the shortage of PPE kits, was admitted to a mental health facility Sunday, a day after he was allegedly manhandled by the police and arrested for creating nuisance in Visakhapatnam.

Dr Sudhakar Rao, a government civil surgeon, was beaten, his hands tied behind his back and dragged by police officers Sunday. During the incident, Sudhakar allegedly verbally abused the Jagan Mohan Reddy government in an inebriated state. Videos of the incident have since been widely shared online.

“The police control room received a call about a person creating nuisance on Beach Road Hospital in Visakhapatnam. The Fourth Town police was rushed there and found that the person was the suspended doctor, Sudhakar.

“When the police tried to control him, he snatched the mobile phone of an officer and threw it away. He is suffering from mental disorder and he was drunk. He was sent for a medical examination,” Vishakapatnam Police Commissioner R.K. Meena told the media Sunday.

Sudhakar was admitted to a mental hospital Sunday after doctors at the King George Hospital in Vishakapatnam said he suffered from anxiety.

“Since the doctor is in anxiety and talking irrelevant things, I have referred him to a mental care hospital in Visakhapatnam,” said Dr Radha Rani, medical superintendent, King George Hospital.

A statement released by the hospital said: “Dr Sudhakar was brought to the KGH casualty ward at 6.30 pm. From the smell, it was found that he was in a drunk condition. Under the influence of alcohol, he did not cooperate with anybody there and kept abusing all. Still, his pulse, BP were checked. Pulse was 98, BP 140/100. Blood samples were sent to forensic lab to ascertain alcohol content in his blood.”

Also read: 6 toilets for 20 houses, inadequate testing: Why Mumbai’s Worli chawls are a Covid hotspot

‘Treatment towards Sudhakar was inhuman’

Sudhakar, who spent more than 10 years at the Narsipatnam Government Hospital in Andhra Pradesh, was suspended from his duties in March after he openly criticised the Reddy government for failing to provide PPE kits and N95 masks to doctors treating Covid-19 patients.

He had alleged that the state government was giving N95 masks and PPE kits meant for doctors to politicians and the police.

A video of Sudhakar criticising the government was also shared widely. In the clip, he can be heard saying: “We are putting our lives at risk here. We are asked to use the same mask for 15 days and a fresh mask will be provided only twice a month.”

Speaking to ThePrint, Dr P. Gangadhar Rao, member of the National COVID Committee of the Indian Medical Association, said the manner in which Sudhakar was manhandled by the police was “inhuman” and “violated” human rights.

“We strongly condemn the way he was taken into custody. He was not carrying a weapon, he was alone, the number of policemen outnumbered him. Why treat him like that? We also saw a video where a policeman beats him with a lathi,” said Dr Gangadhar.

He added that Rao was one of the most experienced anaesthetists the Andhra Pradesh government had.

“Our next step of action is to get Sudhakar to write an unconditional apology for having used filthy language, abusing the chief minister and the government. We will then take our appeal to the CM seeking that he be reinstated,” Gangadhar said.

Also read: Face shields, gowns, masks — the new attire for cabin crew post lockdown


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