By Achal Narayanan
CHENNAI, India (RNS) Roman Catholic priests in some districts of West Bengal, India, have punished Christians who were found to be forcing minors into marriage.
Catholics who allowed children to be married have even been excommunicated, according to a BBC News report from Kolkata. Their children have been denied baptism and the "guilty" families have been barred from attending church functions.
Child marriages, an ancient custom in India, were outlawed many years ago. Women have to be 18 and men 21 to legally wed, but minors are still married off every year, particularly in rural areas of some parts of northern India.
Activists say at least 150 cases of child marriage are reported every day from various parts of the country, and children as young as 6 have been married off.
Catholic priests in West Bengal's Nadia district say they have banned at least 15 Christian families from receiving sacraments for three years as punishment for marrying off young children. Many other families in Nadia and two neighboring districts have been asked to pay a fine for the same offense.
Bishop Joseph Gomes, a leading critic of child marriages, said those who have been punished may be accepted back into the fold if they publicly repent, according to the BBC report.
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