At an age when every teen in India is nurturing a dream, every fifth girl is getting ready for marriage in Nawada, Gaya and Vaishali districts of Bihar. This outdated tradition may force her to live a life of economic dependence, low self-esteem and a barrage of health problems including the risk of early pregnancy.
In 2009 when we started, our plan of building consensus among diverse stakeholders comprising kathavachaks (story tellers), religious leaders, and government officials felt ambitious. However because of our concerted efforts over the last three years, we were able to reach out to over 125,000 people. As of result of these efforts, no child marriage has been reported in the Navgarh, Narayanpur, Narauna, and Naya Gaun villages during this period.
Every time a child marries young they loose out on opportunities that many of us take for granted. We believe it is our duty to make efforts so that these children get a chance of enjoying their childhood.
Working in three districts of Bihar, we were able to break through community attitudes. These were areas where even bracing up the issue of child marriage was contentious. The fact that even local priests by who are key to any marriage in a village supported us exemplifies the kind of change we initiated.
The community leaders that we trained were able to prevent 23 direct incidents of child marriages. In some villages the entire community pledged to keep their village child marriage free.
How does the journey look so far?
868 Nav Chetna Shivirs
for about 1,29,560 people
181 local youth
underwent Youth Leadership Training Program
418 priests influenced
to act against child marriage
45 village community leaders
and 3 block leaders were sensitized during the project period
impacted through special satsangs and padayatras
How did we work?
We conducted Leadership programs (YLTP) to train youth leaders (Yuvacharyas) and also included comprehensive discussions on this issue as a part of the training program. Around 80% of them had themselves been victim of child marriage and hence when they went back into the community they were very effective in reaching out.
Apart from this we built consensus amongst other stakeholders like local priests, kathavachaks (story tellers) and government officials so that they could influence change in their vicinity.
What did we learn?
While we were running our programs, we found that even if a few families wanted to advance the age of marriage for their children, they remained silent due to fear of social castigation. The fear of social stigma acted as a deterrent for them to do the right thing.
In order to change this deep-rooted mindset, we felt that there was a a need for intervention at different layers of the society. That was the reason we started to involve influential people from the villages to lead this change.
How can you contribute?
As a result of our programs where we were helping the children to stand up for their rights, it was inspiring to see that a 10-year-old girl from a remote village stood up against being forced into a child marriage with a 35 year old man. It is a change like this that we would like to usher in many more places.