International Day Of The Girl Child
In drought-affected Parbhani district in Maharashtra, a group of young girls have come together to put a stop to the menace of child marriage in their villages
India has the highest number of child brides in the world. It is estimated that 47% of girls in India are married before their 18th birthday. The rates of child marriage vary between states and are as high as 69% and 65% in Bihar and Rajasthan.
Rani Manchak Kale from Savli village recalls how she narrowly escaped being married off a week before her sixteenth birthday. Her parents both farmers had decided to migrate to the city to look for work with the entire family (which included Rani’s two young brothers) before Rani was married off. She recalls saying that she managed to convince them that she wanted to continue her studies for a few more years.
I wanted to finish school and did not want to get married. My parents told me that they would not be able to take care of me in the city as they would be busy looking for work and hence they thought that by getting me married off their obligations towards me would be over and that I would be protected. I took the help of my friends from my group who met and convinced my parents and they finally agreed.
Rani is part of the group ‘Savitribai Chya Kanya’ (Daughters of Savitribai named after the social reformer Savitribai Phule), brainchild of Child Rights and You (CRY) – an organization working for the rights of underprivileged children for over three decades across the country.
CRY along with its partner Sankalp Manav Vikas Sanstha identified the issue of child marriages in the regions of Marathwada and Vidharbha—which has seen a high number of farmer suicides in the past years due to severe drought.
Many villages in Marathwada region (specially the talukas of Pathari, Selu and Manvath) are now lying empty except for the presence of the elderly. The drought has led to large scale migration of families residing here in search of jobs on construction sites or in sugarcane cutting in other cities and villages. Migration is the main cause for a large number of families marrying off their teenage daughters much before they have attained the age of 16 years forcing them also to drop out of schools.
Raghunath Kasbe, Social Worker with Sankalp points out that the security issue of these teenage girls is the main problem often forcing the parents to marry them off in haste.
Often parents tend to get worried of their safety as they often fall prey to wily contractors and other labour which is why they believe marrying them off is a much better option. They believe the problem is solved once the girl is married off but in fact the girl is indirectly forced into child labour since she ends up working along her new husband on farms or construction sites he is already working on. As a couple they stand to earn more than what he originally would have earned.
Kasbe says that in some cases they had to bring in the police to register cases against both the parents and that of the boy’s to make a point. They begin counseling the parents of these girls whenever they hear of any teenage girls getting ready to be married off.
Last month alone, we came across three cases of child marriage in Savli village and brought it to the notice of the police authorities. We were successful in rescuing these girls and counselled the parents to allow the girls to study further. The girls group which we founded as part of our campaign to put an end to child marriage seems to be successful
The group has been active since the past 3 years and comprises of around 20 girls in each village ranging in the age group of 14 to 18 years. They meet once a week to share updates and often voluntarily talk to the parents of underage girls whose marriages are often finalized without their approval.
17-year-old Geeta Kale is one of the group members who although couldn’t stop her own marriage, has been working hard to stop other teenage girls being pushed into it.
I was married off at 15 years of age and there was nothing I could do about it then. But when I came to know of this group after I came to this village I joined them and now work alongside them create awareness of the disadvantages of getting married young,
She had to give up her studies and was keen on appearing for her Std X exams now she is working hard in trying to realize their dreams.
I want to become an IAS officer. My parents have migrated but they have left me behind and I now stay with my grandmother.
Most girls in Savli village are keen on higher studies and are staying back on their own and attending school as well as doing all the household chores. They are cared to by their extended family members or grandparents while those staying alone at home, reach out to their girls’ group for company and advice.