Far removed from the glare of media spotlight and hundreds of miles away from the national capital of Delhi, a silent revolution is taking shape in pockets of Jharkhand and Bihar.
Empowered by Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation (KSCF) and sensitised about their rights, children living in villages in the hinterland are picking up cudgels against the age-old practice of ‘bal vivah’ or child marriage, which is illegal as per law.
Thanks to their active intervention, scores of young girls suffocated by family pressure, who would have been married off by now otherwise, can breathe and pursue their dreams again.
Woking towards creation of Bal Mitra Grams (BMGs) or ‘child friendly villages’ to ensure that no child is engaged as child labour and that every child is enrolled in school, KSCF has been working tirelessly for years to generate awareness within the community, empower child leaders, mobilise women and work closely with the village panchayat and district administration to eliminate exploitation of children.
While the impact on the ground has been phenomenal, the COVID-19 pandemic not only shrunk family incomes but also pulled children out of education due to closure of schools. Unable to make both ends meet and worried over the safety of girls at home, many parents thought of getting their daughters married. This in spite of the fact that the girls were minors and not of marriageable age.
Acutely sensitive of the ground situation, BMG teams in the villages maintained close vigil and engaged children and community leaders to gather information on child marriages and share it with the KSCF team and government officials for swift action.
And this paid off. Joint effort of the KSCF team, child leaders and government officials resulted in foiling many child marriages over the past few months.
A case in point is 15-year-old Pammi Kumari. Two years back, her parents enrolled her in a residential school as her village Faguni in Nawada district of Bihar, lacked education facilities and they wanted her to be educated. However, school lockdown forced her to come back to the village which is when her parents thought of getting her married.
Child leaders of the village visited her place along with KSCF team and persuaded her parents to call off the marriage since it was illegal. Her parents cited their poor economic condition and also said they felt scared to leave Pammi alone at home when they have to step out.
The KSCF team explained to them how marriage will add up to the family expenses while they are facing a financial crisis. They further explained about violation of laws in organising a child marriage. Finally, her parents agreed to postpone the marriage and assured that they would support her education.
16-year-old Urmila Kumari’s imminent child marriage could be foiled only due to immediate action of the Bal Panchayat (Children’s Council) in the village. KSCF team Bal Panchayat members, village council members, Anganwadi workers visited Urmila’s parents but her father wasn’t willing to listen. He in fact got his friends along to say that KSCF was interfering in their personal matter.
However, child leaders refused to be cowed down and drafted a complaint to Block Development Officer (BDO) and informed him about the marriage. The BDO immediately directed the Childline and local police to take action to prevent the marriage.
In a similar case, 16-year-old Radha Kumari, President of the Bal Panchayat of her village, went against her family and prevented her own marriage. She even threatened her parents and spoke to her would-be in-laws and said that she would lodge a police complaint if they forced her to marry since it was against the law of the land and she only wanted to concentrate on her studies.
Child leaders were also successful in foiling marriages of other minors including Manisha Kumari and Rani Kumari by going ahead and bringing the matter to the notice of the police.