Berhampur, Sep 16 (PTI) Over 1,000 villages and 126 more wards of the urban areas in Odisha’s Ganjam district have been declared free from child marriage, an official said on Thursday.

The district administration declared 1,010 villages as child marriage-free in the meeting on the 'Day for Child' held at Chhatrapur on Tuesday.

The new additions take the total number of child marriage-free areas to 2,042 out of 3,250 villages and 266 out of 286 wards of 18 urban local bodies. Similarly, 221 out of 503 panchayats in the district are now declared as child marriage free.

"For the first time, we have declared child marriage -free panchayats in the district," District Social Welfare Officer Surekha Mallick said.

The panchayats, villages and wards were declared child marriage-free based on the recommendation by the panchayat and ward-level task force committees on prohibition of child marriage, official sources said.

It was duly verified by the respective block development officer and the child marriage prohibition officers, the sources said.

Acting on their recommendations, that there was not a single child marriage reported in these villages after the district administration launched the 'Nirbhaya Kadhi' initiative in September 2019, Mallick said.

It is an innovative awareness programme to prevent child marriage and adolescent empowerment.

Under the initiative, awareness programmes are held at village-level, where the Anganwadi and Asha workers educate the adolescent girls against child marriage in the third Saturday of every month.

It was possible due to the active involvement of the communities, said Debabratt Mahunt, district coordinator of ActionAid.

"Besides Nirbhaya Kadhi, we have also taken several other initiations to end child marriage in the district," Ganjam Collector Vijay Kulange said.

These include compulsory verification of Aadhaar card of the bride in every marriage in the village, verification of long absent of girl student in the schools and reward of Rs 5,000 to the informer about the child marriage, he said.

The district administration has set a target to make Ganjam child marriage-free district by Children’s Day on November 14 this year.