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UNICEF-EC programme gives a second chance to a would-be child bride in India
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Child marriage is illegal in India, but in poor regions, such as the north-western state of Rajasthan, there is enormous social and economic pressure to defy the law. More than half of girls here are married by age 18 – often setting up a lifetime of health and social problems for these young women and their children.
‘A disempowered girl’
“Child marriage is against child rights,” said UNICEF Child Protection Specialist Sulagna Roy. “It influences children’s and mother’s health. It continues a cycle of poverty. It leaves a disempowered girl.”
Bablu’s father, Buma Ram, said community pressure led the family to agree to the early marriage. But new support structures for adolescent girls are arriving in Rajasthan. Bablu’s aunt Durga – a village health-care worker – is part of a programme supported by the European Commission and UNICEF to give strength to families who decide not to marry their daughters young.
“When discussing these issues, we are not here to lecture but to support [communities] in finding solutions to these problems,” said European Commission Representative to India Daniele Smadja.
An end to harmful practices
UNICEF and the European Commission work with government at all levels in India to help families who decide not to marry off their young daughters. Local health care workers like Durga are at the heart of the programme.
At the community meetings held by the UNICEF-European Commission partnership, villagers are encouraged to discuss issues such as domestic violence and girls’ education, and to find ways they can all agree on ending harmful social practices. The programme encourages communities to realize that everyone benefits when girls stay in school and delay marriage.
The meetings also try to find economic alternatives for girls who choose not to marry.
Saving others from early marriage
Bablu is grateful for her father’s change of heart. She says she would have killed herself if she had been forced to marry. She is now determined to stay in school and help save others from the fate she avoided.
Her example has already inspired wider change. Hearing about Bablu, five girls in nearby villages stopped their own marriages.
And Bablu remains committed to standing up for any girl who refuses marriage. “I will not let any young girls marry,” she said. “I will take legal action. I want to become somebody.”