An RTI response obtained by health activist A Veronica Mary has unveiled concerning statistics, indicating that Tirunelveli district recorded a total of 1,448 deliveries by girls below the age of 18 over a span of 34 months, from January 2021 to October 2023.
Mary is urging the state government to enhance awareness programs addressing child marriage and to incorporate sex education, along with highlighting the drawbacks of early pregnancy, in school textbooks. Out of the reported deliveries, 1,101 occurred in Primary Health Centres (PHCs) across both rural and urban areas of the district. Tirunelveli Medical College Hospital witnessed 347 child deliveries during the specified period, with Melapalayam urban PHC topping the list among PHCs at 88 deliveries, followed by Manur rural PHC with 44.
Mary emphasized that school dropout rates among girls contribute significantly to child marriages in both rural and urban settings. She mentioned that parents often opt to marry their daughters off after they drop out of school, leading to elopements and subsequent cases of sexual abuse, which is punishable under the Pocso Act. Despite a government order in 2012 initiating mobile vehicle units to raise awareness about sexual offenses among students, Mary claims it has not been implemented effectively, and many students remain unaware of the helpline number 1098.
District social welfare officer K Thanalakshmi acknowledged the department’s efforts to combat child marriage through awareness campaigns in schools. She noted that the district witnesses more love marriages than arranged ones, and the matter often comes to light only after the girl becomes pregnant. Thanalakshmi shared that the department, in collaboration with the district administration, is compiling a list of school dropouts to bring them back and prevent instances of child marriages.
Police sources affirmed that cases related to all child pregnancy incidents in Tirunelveli are being registered, contributing to the apparent rise in case numbers. They mentioned that elopement and marriage incidents account for 99% of child pregnancy cases. Despite challenges, police personnel have been conducting Pocso awareness classes in schools across the district to address the issue.