Young Fighters who Fought for their Independence – Child Marriage
Jamui, Bihar: Child marriage still appears to be a formidable problem in Bihar and it disproportionately impacts girls, depriving them of their education, health and safety, experts say. However, despite its prevalence, several non-governmental organisations and the state government are taking steps to reduce child marriages in Bihar.
One in three of the world’s child brides live in India, while around 50% of the child brides in India come from five states, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh, according to a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report.
Rashmi Jha, senior consultant with the state child protection society, Directorate of Social Welfare, Bihar, told 101Reporters that the statistics reflect high rates of child marriage in India because patriarchal Indian society views women as an economic burden.
Saheena Parveen, Bihar programme officer, The Hunger Project (THP), an NGO which works for women empowerment, stated that through their initiative, they have been able to stop child marriages by educating young girls.
She informed that they started with about a thousand girls in 2016, and estimates that about 85% of them are now pursuing higher education.
“The biggest change that I have experienced in these years is that the girls aren’t only protesting against child marriage, but are also coming up as leaders and leading to social change. Many of them have registered in the voting list and say we also have the right to select our leader. In the future, they see themselves as panchayat leaders,” she told 101Reporters.
Fought against parents
In 2015, the wedding of a 15-year-old Nandini Kumari, a resident of Jamui, was fixed. Belonging to a family with poor financial status, her parents were forcing her to get married. However, she stayed resilient and fought against it and now she is an inspiration to many in the society.
She recently passed her class 12 examinations and wishes to become a governmental officer so that she can influence positive change in society, she told 101Reporters.
Nandini, who is now 18, mentioned that even in 2015, she was aware of the laws regarding child marriage. She tried convincing her parents, tried reasoning with them, but when everything else failed, she contacted the local ward member, who helped her and was able to stop her wedding, she added.
She mentioned that she has helped prevent over 20 girls from being forced into child marriage.
Pancha Devi, ward member of Ward 4 in Jamui, stated that after the Nandini incident, many young girls broke their marriages.
Now the girls in the village are aware and go to school and we make sure that no minor is married below 18, she added.
Fear of imprisonment
In another case, the wedding of Anokhi Kumari, 16, a resident of Rohtas, was fixed. Prior to the wedding, she was stopped from going to school. She tried to convince her parents, but it didn’t work.
With the help of her three friends, Anokhi managed to make her parents aware of the laws regarding child marriage and the punishment for being involved in one. “Then they got afraid and were compelled to think about their decision, and finally, my protest was successful. I was again allowed to go to school and tuition,” she added.
At present, Anokhi is a student of standard 11 at Rohtas High School. Apart from her own case, she has also helped stop other child marriages in the area.
In another case, Anokhi mentioned, her friend Sarita was being forced to get married, but then she, with a group of friends, spoke to Sarita’s parents and explained that they could get jailed for it.
Pramila Kumar, a Jamui-based social activist, stated that the girls of the area have become vocal in asking for their rights and protesting against child marriage.
The girls are a part of Sukanya club, which is an initiative by the THP, and it helps them be aware of the rights and the situation of other girls in the area.
Some groups keep in touch with the block development officer and other government officials and inform them if anyone is planning a child marriage.
Drop in child marriages
According to the National Family Health Survey-3 (NFHS-3), Bihar topped the in the country in the prevalence of child marriage with 47.8%. However, in the NFHS-4, Bihar was able to reduce the prevalence by 20%.
Harjot Kaur Bamhrah, Managing Director of the Women Development Corporation, Bihar, stated that the reasons for the decline in the prevalence of child marriage are economic growth and rise in income in rural Bihar, along with the rise of girl education and other initiatives to help women.
U N Mansoor, child security expert, UNICEF, Bihar, told 101Reporters that after the Baal Vivah Evam Dahej Mukt Hamara Bihar campaign, which was launched in 2017 by the Bihar government, there has been a significant drop in child marriage incidents in the state.
He mentioned that the task force under the campaign is working on the district, block and panchayat levels. Also, the cases registered in Bihar child helpline reflect that earlier the girls were getting married at the age of 14-16, but now it has moved to 18-19, he added.
(The author is Patna-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)