Child marriages have been a regular practice among tribal communities in Orissa for generations.
But the village elders in Tutiaguda have now decided to ban child marriages and enlighten all residents by describing the concept of marrying off minors as a social evil.
"Earlier, we did not know about the ill effects of child marriage but now we have decided to get our girls married only after 18. In the past, our tribal people used to get married before they had turned 18," said Janaki Durva, a tribal woman of Tutiaguda.
A survey conducted by a local NGO revealed that in Koraput District over 90 per cent of girls were married before reaching the legal 18 years of age and almost all of them soon became pregnant.
Between 2004 and 2006, out the 27 marriages solemnized in Tutiaguda, 26 were of underage girls and boys.
Massive awareness programme was undertaken by a non-governmental organization Aryan along with many village elders.
The awareness campaign showed result, as for over one year now not a single underage marriage has taken place here.
Aryan availed ample support from UNICEF in this exercise.
Belonging to the same village, Padmini Munduli, is one such woman who was married when she was 12. She had to get endure conjugal relationship even before attaining her puberty. She suffered premature miscarriages twice. On the third occasion, she delivered a deformed boy.
She realized her parents' blunder of marrying off their daughter at such a young age.
"I got married when I was 12 and I was not aware about child marriage. Now I have understood the adverse effects of it and will not allow our girls to get married before 18 and 21 years of age," said Padmini Binjal Munduli, a victim of child marriage.
Padmini's misery was presented to enlighten other members of the tribal community.
The result is today locals would boycott even attending any function related to child marriage elsewhere.
It has widely been observed that child marriages are deeply entrenched in the socio-economic context of backwardness, poverty, illiteracy, patriarchy, and feudalism.
Bearing these aspects in view, voluntary fora like "Aryan" active in the region are now conducting counselling sessions in schools where young girls are also told about the ills of marrying at an early age.
"Marriages in these tribal families used to take place. Girls used to get married even wen they had just stepped into their teens. Now in some villages around the district these tribals have planned not to get their girls married before the age of 18 years and also ensure that they visit the local maternity hospital right from the time of advanced stage of pregnancy to labour pains for proper pre-natal and post-natal care. So it is a good message that is spreading in the nearby villages," said Ishwar Sabal, a social activist of Aryan, an NGO.
Such a collective move deserves to be emulated by all those who still solemnise conventional child marriages elsewhere in India.
Despite the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929, child marriages continue to take place in some parts of rural India. The main reason for such an evil's presence is mainly because the Act is not strictly enforced by the respective administration, according to social activists and legal experts.