Fairs are commonplace in the festive season but in tribal West Midnapore, which falls in the erstwhile Maoist-hit Jangalmahal area, it is child marriage fairs which are drawing large crowds. Such tribal child marriage fairs are held each year during this festive season. With the decline in Maoist violence, more tribals are fearlessly participating in the fairs being held this year, according to a report by women rights NGO ‘Suchetna’, which works in the area. ‘Suchetna’ secretary Swati Dutta cites the example of Orgonda Patabinda Mela now on near Binpur, which is said to be the most famous one drawing thousands of tribals from nearby districts like Purulia and Bankura who come to marry off their underage daughters. “From Sildah to Belpahari, a stretch of 20 km, more than one lakh tribals organise fairs in many places during this season where young girls are asked by their parents to choose a groom of their choice,” Dutta told PTI. WB: Child marriage fairs a hit in West Midnapore WB: Child marriage fairs a hit in West Midnapore But there is not much choice for these young girls, who are barely into their teens as they are forced to marry if they so no, she said. For many tribal communities in the district like Santhal, Lodha, Kheri and Mahato it is a tradition to look for grooms when the girl turns 12. Poverty is another issue which drives villagers to underage marriages. “We have seen that when the family is poor and they have three to four daughters, underage marriage is common among them,” she said, adding the NGO had conducted a sample survey in Gopiballavpur-1, Binpur-2, Sankrail and Kesiari blocks. Child marriage fairs account for a large number of girls dropping out of schools in West Midnapore district, where the figures are a worrying 50 per cent, Dutta said. Besides it being illegal to marry under 18 years as per the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, it is also disastrous for the health of the girl. “But the administration is silent on such fairs,” she said. After getting married, most of the teenage girls drop out of school. In some villages more than 60-70 per cent of the girls are child brides, Dutta said quoting from the survey. “These child brides are burdened with household chores after marriage. Most of them can’t handle it leading to incidents of domestic violence and marital discords,” she said. Also because of the early and often closely timed pregnancies, the adolescent mothers who are themselves unable to handle the stress give birth prematurely or to low weight babies. The NGO in its survey found at least 354 cases of child marriages and 40 cases of trafficking in West Midnapore. According to the World Health Organisation, India witnessed the maximum number of child marriages and in 47 per cent such cases the bride is a child. According to the UN, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death for girls aged 15-19 years in developing countries.