The tribal-dominated Gajapati district in Odisha was declared 'child marriage free', becoming the second such district in the state after Ganjam, officials said. Collector Lingraj Panda announced it on Thursday after the district met all the criteria laid by the state government to get the tag. Among these criteria is no child marriage solemnized in the last two years, village-level child protection committees meeting regularly, marriage records maintained in every village, and tracking girls who are absent in schools, officials said.
Panda said all 1,710 villages in 149 panchayat areas in seven blocks of the district fulfilled the criteria. The urban areas under
Paralakhemundi Municipality and Kashinagar Notified Area Council also met the conditions.
Large-scale awareness drives with the help of Anganwadi and ASHA workers were undertaken over the last four years to meet the criteria, he said.
The community leaders were also involved in the efforts, he said. During the period, the district administration prevented 103 child marriage attempts, officials said.
A team of the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to End Child Marriage also visited the district in November to inspect the initiatives undertaken by the district administration, Panda said.
Over 12,000 villages in the state have been declared free from child marriage after they fulfilled the criteria, officials said.
The government has also laid down guidelines to be followed after a village is declared 'child marriage free'.
According to the guidelines, the village-level committees should meet regularly and take stock of all awareness activities. They should monitor families identified as vulnerable, and sensitize religious heads. Ganjam was the first district in the state to get the tag in January last year.