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Millennium Post

We want a nation united against early marriage

While we  often speak  about the ills of early marriage through the prism of child mortality, pregnancy-related deaths,  malnutrition and other complex issues, we rarely look at early marriage – as a tradition and custom, which though illegal continues to be the norm in several parts of India. States like Rajasthan, Bihar and Jharkhand have the highest incidences of early marriage in India.

While there are legal provisions like the Prevention of Child Marriage Act are enforced, they largely remain ineffective due to lack of disapproval for the practice within the community. Thus, with little to no support, the girls are pushed into a vicious cycle of violations of various strategic life choices.

Breakthrough has made a focused foray into tackling the issue of early marriage head on- by addressing it as a grave societal malaise blighting the lives of thousands of young girls across India, instead of regarding it merely as a fallout or consequence of other violations. Our efforts on the ground are underway in three districts of India – Ranchi and Hazaribagh in Jharkhand and Gaya in Bihar.  In rural Bihar and Jharkhand, the percentage of women aged between 20 and 24 years, who were already married by the time they turned 18 was 69.6% and 58.1% respectively. Across the district of Gaya, one of the key districts where Breakthrough’s interventions are currently on, the percentage of women marrying before completing 18 years is about 50.4%, while in the rural areas the percentage is far higher at 56.7%. The total percentage of girls married in Hazaribagh and Ranchi in Jharkhand before turning 18 is 33.6% and 25.3% respectively.

We believe that change can happen on the ground when the community as a whole and men and youth, in particular realize the gravity of the situation. We have been using street theatre fairly extensively in our training modules. School children from middle school and high school level work with our trainers to understand the key messages on why early marriage is harmful for girls and the family and community as a whole. The idea is to make them empowered and activate them to take the messages to their near circles – family, friends, neighbours.  This creates a chain of change-makers, who we believe can take the message into their communities and alter mindsets. Since the trainings began in April this year, we have been hearing several heartening stories of young girls feeling empowered enough to speak up against the tradition of early marriage within their families and the close circles.

Through training and community sensitization drives, our campaign has focused on raising the collective conscience of communities to put an end to this tradition for good. Wherever the community model works,we have begun observing positive outcomes - women,especially girls are feeling empowered to resist early marriage with the backing and support from their family, community and the law enforcement agencies.

From GovernanceNow

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