Guess how Bihar is fighting child marriages? The answer will surprise you

Dowry plays another major role in promoting child marriages as parents pay a higher dowry if their daughters become adults

Sukanya Clubs formed at the panchayat level in Champaran, Bihar, doesn’t only encourage the girls to play football but are also used for meetings, interaction, raising awareness, and to create awareness and build up confidence among the girls to stand against their own marriage before they are 18 years old.

This unique initiative was started by a group of girls with the help of elected representatives of the panchayat and some local educated men and women. These girls have been fighting against child marriage and have saved almost a dozen girls from being its victim.

“I refused to get married and managed to convince my parents to allow me to study after I met a group of local girls, who informed me about child marriage, its bad impact on health, education, and our empowerment,” Nushrat, a local from Mangalpur village, told VillageSquare.in, adding that her parents supported her decision to not marry till she completes her education.

Nushrat, who is a student of Class VII at a government school, has now joined the core team of girls who spread the awareness against child marriage. She is one of the hundreds of girls in rural areas like Mangalpur, Bodsar, Karmaha, Naraingarh, and Sidhaon.

“Nearly 250 girls between the age of 14-18 in 10 panchayats in Bagaha block in West Champaran have joined the Sukanya Club as leaders to fight against child marriage,” Akhtari Begum, who is the head of a voluntary organization, Izad, told VillageSquare.in. She added that their effort to create awareness and motivate local village girls to join this campaign has proved successful till now. In fact, not only some have come forward themselves and refused to get married but some of them also convinced their parents to get them married only when they reach the age of 18.

One of the major faces of this campaign against child marriage in 10 panchayats, Lakhsmi Khatri, recalls that she began the campaign with a group of just five girls. But this number has now increased to hundreds. “We have started work with a resolution – My Life My Right – that has slowly spread, and our numbers have increased,” she said in the same report.

Meanwhile, a different group of girls has been promoting and encouraging girls in rural Patna and Samastipur districts to play football and aware themselves about their education, career choices, and health. This group has also helped in empowering the girls and give them the strength to say no to child marriage.

“We began a small initiative called ‘It’s My Body’ with two other girls to promote football and create awareness against child marriage. It was almost impossible to get sufficient time and free space to talk to these girls about the ill-effects of child marriage on their health, education, and life in general. So, we decided to bring them together to the field to play football to give them confidence, and make them confident enough to take their own decision to say no to child marriage,” Pratima Kumari, who was a victim of child marriage herself, and is the brain behind introducing football among village girls, told VillageSquare.in.

35-year-old Pratima Kumari, a Dalit, claims that child marriage is a major social issue among Dalits, Other Backward Classes, and Muslims due to low literacy rate among these classes. “Keeping education as the main agenda in mind, I started working with Dalits and other marginalised groups like OBCs and Muslims in 2013. I requested and convinced the girls’ parents to let their daughters complete their higher education before they get them married. We have used football as a tool to reach out to the core of the problem,” she said, adding that her work was recognized by CREA, a feminist human rights organization based in New Delhi. This organisation helped Pratima organise regular training for the girls and she proudly claims that this initiative has allowed three Muslim girls in Murgiyachaak village and five Muslim girls in Adhapa village to say no to underage marriage.

Dowry plays another major role in promoting child marriages as parents pay a higher dowry if their daughters become adults. “There has been a lack of awareness and mental setup for ages. Hence, many people see start of menstruation as indicating a girl’s readiness for marriage and childbirth,” said Vipin Kumar, communication coordinator of Save the Children in Bihar and added that girls are still considered as a burden in the rural areas of Bihar and parents are way too eager to get rid of them.

However, the scenario seems to be changing now. Till a few years ago, Bihar accounted for 69 per cent of child marriages in India but as per the latest National Family Health Survey-4 (NFHS-4), lower figures have been revealed in the last 10 years. The survey shows that Bihar has recorded a decline of 30 per cent in child marriage between 2005-6 and 2015-16. But, 39.1 per cent child marriages still take place in the state. In fact, in 19 out of 38 districts of Bihar, child marriage is above 40 per cent.

Thanks to this report, the Chief Minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, announced the launch of a massive campaign against child marriage in May 2017 during an official function of Champaran Satyagraha. Now, it remains to be seen if the campaign will actually help Bihar get rid of this social problem.

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