‘Are We Victims or Criminals?’: Child Brides of Gujarat Fight for Nutrition

6 days ago 36

On a hot November afternoon, The Quint met Devi*, a 17-year-old girl who is six months pregnant. "As of now, there haven't been any complications," said the girl's mother-in-law.

Devi, however, has had no access to a doctor, despite a civil hospital being only a kilometre away from her house. 

Khavda, where Devi lives, is one of the only few villages in Kutch district's Bhuj taluka to have a functional civil hospital. People from nearby villages of Dinara, Ratadiya, Godpar, and Dhoravar come to the Khavda civil hospital for treatment. 

"Visiting the civil hospital for a check-up means disclosing her (Devi's) age to government doctors," said the child's brother-in-law, Mahesh*, rather reluctantly. "If there is an issue, we will take her to a private hospital in Bhuj or Anjar," he added.

A visit to the private hospital, however, will cost money and with Devi's husband and brother-in-law being the only breadwinners in a family of nine, this might be tough. The two men earn Rs 250-300 a day each.

Meanwhile, Gaura's family, in the same village as Devi's, has found a "solution."

"With the help of an Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) worker, we got a 'Mamata card' made... My last pregnancy was tough. I was 14 years old and it was a premature delivery. My baby was admitted in a private hospital for over 40 days. It cost us Rs 2.5 lakh. We are still in debt. So, this time we have a Mamta card," she revealed.

So, what is a Mamta card?

A Mamta card is the Gujarat government's Mother and Child Protection card which keeps track of hospital visits, check-ups, and vaccination for pregnant and lactating mothers and their babies.

As per Gaura's Mamta card, seen by The Quint, her age as of November 2022 is 21 years. Another copy of the card says she is 26 years old. None of the two match with the age calculated as per the date of birth on her Aadhaar card - 8 July 2004. As per that, she is 18 years old.

Hetal, the Anganwadi worker, explained, "Sometimes, ASHA workers issue Mamta cards on the basis of just what they are told. Many of these girls don't have Aadhaar cards. The ASHA workers also know that sometimes the age on the Mamta card is incorrect but what's the choice?"

She said that without a Mamta card, "most of these girls have no access to healthcare. They do not go to the civil hospital out of fear and private clinics are unaffordable."

A Mamta card, however, cannot ensure that these women get free ration under the MMY scheme. "For that, you need the Aadhaar card number," informed Hetal. 

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