After Saju Vaheed joined as the collector of the South Tripura district in 2021, he found that many female students of Classes 8, 9, and 10 were dropping out of school.

So, in mid-2022, he conducted a survey and found out that 215 such girls got married in 2020 with the number being 209 in 2021.

“Child marriages comprised over 50 percent of the total dropout rate. Parents were getting their girls married as soon as they were entering puberty,” he says.

“Another issue is that it’s hard to detect ongoing child marriages because they often involve local cooperation,” he adds.

Considering it his duty as a district magistrate to prevent child marriages, the IAS officer brought together all the departments and decided to utilise Balika Manch as a tool for child marriage prevention in the district.

Balika Manch is a club of school-going girls from Class 6 to 12, a female teacher, and a convenor who keeps track of the female students’ attendance in their classes.

“If a girl is absent for more than a week, the convenor reports about it to the chairman (teacher). On learning this, the Balika Manch representatives visit the absentee’s house to enquire,” says Saju.

“If they learn that the family is forcing the girl to get married, they try to convince the family to get her back to school citing legal implications of the act,” he adds.

For this, the administration has formed WhatsApp groups of Balika Manch representatives, women school management committees, members of the Childline, child welfare committees, and district-level officials.

With timely intervention, Saju has been able to prevent 90 planned child marriages in the district in the past year with the help of 158 school clubs across the district.

Talking about the impact of the work, he says, “I believe if we are able to continue this way for another year, we will be able to eradicate child marriages in our district.”

Seeing the progress of the work, the state government aims to expand this initiative across Tripura.