Showing posts with label Child Marriage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Child Marriage. Show all posts

August 09, 2018

Warning for Odisha Govt: 56K Adolescent Girls Drop Out of School

Two ministries of the Odisha government are at loggerheads over the dropout rate of ‘adolescent girls’ from school, in the state. Last week, based on a baseline survey, the department of Women and Child Development and Mission Shakti (WCD-MS) claimed that nearly 56,000 girls, in the age group of 11-14, are out of school.

The survey was done to trace out the number of beneficiaries to be included under the central government-sponsored Scheme for Adolescent Girls (SAG), which has been universalised in the state since 1 April 2018. A letter from Anu Garg, Principal Secretary of WCD-MS department, to her counterpart in the School and Mass Education Department, specified that 55,868 girls of 11-14 years, were out of school.

Hours after the WCD-MS survey results were made public, Badri Narayan Patra, the School and Mass Education Minister, claimed only 1,060 girls in the aforesaid age group were out of school till September 2017. The minister was citing the figures from a survey done by the School and Mass education department.

The Conflict Over Data
The unimaginable gap between the data provided by two different government departments has left many intellectuals and educationists scratching their heads.

“This is just a joke from the minister. If the department has given him this number then its survey is either too limited,or it’s hiding the reality to save its face,” said Anil Pradhan, Convener of the Odisha Right to Education (RTE) forum.

However, the minister has been showing old data (of September 2017) and his department might have collected it from the schools, particularly on dropouts. It doesn’t have a system to go to communities to gather data. On the other hand, the data provided by the WCD-MS department includes girls who never enrolled, enrolled but never attended school, and girls who dropped out of schools, explained an official from WCD-MS department on condition of anonymity.

Somehow, because of its presence at the grassroot level, through the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) network, WCD-MS data seems more reliable, said Panchanan Mishra, a community development practitioner based in the tribal district of Kandhamal. He said, “The mass education minister should realise this fact instead of challenging the latest data.”
The minister should understand that his figure, which is completely at odds with the latest numbers, would deprive a huge number of adolescent girls from receiving the benefits of SAG, the source at WCD-MS said.

SAG aims to address the multi-dimensional needs of out-of-school adolescent girls between 11 and 14 years, and to motivate these girls to join formal or informal school systems for a better future.

Policy Failure of Naveen Patnaik Government?

With so many policies and schemes like the Odisha State Policy for Girls and Women, the Biju Kanya Ratna Yojana, and programmes specifically designed for adolescent girls, the School and Mass Education department of Odisha government has been claiming a high rate of success in the education of the girl child. But the aforesaid survey results from the Women and Child Development and Mission Shakti (WCD-MS) department has opened Pandora’s Box.

“The Education Minister should believe that the data collected by WCD-MS is even less than the reality,” insisted noted human rights activist and lawyer Biswapriya Kanungo, who has filed a case with the National Human Right Commission (NHRC) citing the issue as a gross violation of the fundamental right to education of every Indian upto the age of 14.
The Odisha government, however, claims a huge success in the enrollment of girls and bringing back girl dropouts to schools under the the State Policy for Girls and Women and the Biju Kanya Ratna (BKR) scheme in specific districts.
The State Policy of Girls and Women envisages an expenditure of about 500 crores over a period of time to ensure development and empowerment of girls. Besides, with a budget of 3.5 crore rupees between 2016-2017 and 2018-19, the Biju Kanya Ratna Yojana implemented in three districts of Angul, Dhenkanal and Ganjam works to address gender bias and issues related to the girl child.

Ironically, the tribal populated KBK (undivided Koraput, Bolangir and Kalandi districts) region has the most number of out of school girls with Koraput claiming top spot, with 10,599 such girls. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s home district of Ganjam has 4,296 out-of-school girls, despite the implementation of Biju Kanya Ratna scheme.

“It completely reflects gross failure of policies that have more become vote-centric than development-centric. This could be attributed to the fact that children of none of the ministers and political leaders, bureaucrats and policy makers go to a government-run educational facility,” Kanungo said.

RTE activist Anil Pradhan told The Quint, “There is no dearth of funds but a huge lack of political will, bureaucratic interest and involvement.

A Chance at a Better Life

“It’s a warning call. It seems that the future of such huge numbers of adolescent girls is bleak. Most of these girls would be forced to marry early which would lead to more child marriages. Many would become labourers and several would be vulnerable to various types of abuse,” Rukmini Panda, a Bhubaneswar-based commentator on gender said.

Panda asked, “How can the state achieve the goals of development by depriving so many girls of their basic right to education, which would force them towards early and unsafe motherhood?”
It’s globally accepted that at least 10 years of education among girls would reduce 64 percent of child marriages.

“And, when we are not addressing the issue of trying to get these girls back to schools and allow them to complete at least secondary level education, we are making their lives vulnerable — to child marriage, and to sexual and physical abuse,” Pradhan said.

“The government and civil societies must take it as a serious call for action to help these girls improve their lives. Instead of fighting over a discrepancy in data, all government departments should rather come together to ensure the best coverage of SAG in Odisha, and offer these adolescent girls from marginalised communities, a chance at a risk-free, healthy life, Rukmini Panda said.

This piece first appeared on The Quint.

July 18, 2018

Araku Valley takes baby steps to address maternal health

An initiative to reach healthcare services to pregnant women and new mothers in the underdeveloped Araku Valley, bordering Odisha's Koraput district, has seen a measure of success in tribal communities ruled by superstition and regressive practices

In a lively anganwadi or daycare center in Godiguda village, an auxiliary nurse midwife (ANM) conducting health check up of over 10 women, some pregnant and others lactating, reflected the changing scenario in maternal and child health in the Araku Valley of Andhra Pradesh.

Traditionally, delivery cases handled by a dhai, elderly women from the village or the community, being the practice, and pregnant women visiting a medical or a doctor considered an act against norm, pregnant mothers had to submit themselves to their fate despite high rate of maternal and neonatal mortality in the valley, Malati (35), who has decided to go for an institutional delivery for her sixth child, told VilageSquare.in.

Since undergoing family planning surgery, using contraceptives and an abortion by choice are all considered sins against humanity, multiple pregnancies up to five-six children is quite common across the valley inhabited mostly by tribal people.

To add to the plight of women were the rough terrain and lack of communication facilities to reach the government primary and community health centers in times of urgency.

Awareness the key

“In a predominantly tribal society ruled by stigma and superstitions, influencing behavior to make these women folks attend regular health check up during pregnancy and opt for institutional delivery was a herculean task,” Pramila, a girl from the Araku Valley who works as ANM in the Asara tribal health project of Piramal Swasthya, told VillageSquare.in.

Piramal Swasthya works in coordination with the government system to make health services available to tribal communities, particularly pregnant and lactating mothers and their newborns, in times of need. “Despite being from the local communities, we were threatened initially by a few male members for misleading the pregnant women by suggesting them to go for medical check-up and institutional delivery,” Pramila said.

If the mothers and their newborns were to be saved, bringing awareness on maternal and child health, possible complications during pregnancy and benefits of institutional delivery were essential. This idea drove Pramila and her colleagues like P. Padma to reach out to people, trace pregnant mothers and motivate them as well as other family members, such as the husband and elderly members, to avail health services for a safe delivery.

Now, most of the pregnant women like Malati of Godiguda and Vasanta (35) of Muliagalagu are not only coming for health checkup and consuming iron folic tablets as well as other nutrient supplementations, but also have decided to go for institutional delivery. “Earlier, we were unaware of the benefits of institutional delivery,” Vasanta said.

Making services accessible

However, accessing public health facilities was an issue for most hamlets. One had to walk miles through rough terrain to reach a paved road and get an ambulance to a health center. The time required to reach a hospital always remained crucial to pregnant mothers.

In order to make the facility reach people in need, a mobile hospital service with all facilities to handle a delivery case has been started under the Asara project. “Many pregnant mothers from remote hamlets who were at the last stage have delivered their babies in the mobile hospital vans,” T. Swarnalatha, program manager of the project, told VillageSquare.in.

While the ANMs visit every hamlet to attend the pregnant mothers, the telemedicine centers with necessary equipment, nurses and a doctor work as the points for periodical health checkup, necessary treatment and expert consultation through teleconferencing. Mothers diagnosed with diseases that need further treatment are referred to government health care centers or district hospitals.

“Most mothers come with anemia and diseases like malaria and hypertension,” said medical doctor Sanmukha Reddy of Dumbriguda telemedicine center.

Nutrition-related challenges

As is the case with tribal communities of India, “anemia is most common among pregnant mothers and children of the Araku valley,” nutritionist Sweta Kuralla of Nandivalasa nutrition hub, a center under the Gosthani project to deal with nutrition-related issues, told VillageSquare.in.

About 88.9% of adolescent girls are anemic, 17.8% being severely anemic. Highest prevalence was seen in the age group of 12-13 and 14-15 years that is 85% and 86.5% respectively, says a study on anemia among adolescent girls in the tribal areas of Visakhapatnam district in Andhra Pradesh.

According to National Family Health Survey 2015-16 (NFHS-4), 60% of women in Andhra Pradesh have anemia. Malnutrition being particularly common in the younger age groups of the scheduled tribes, 59% of children between the ages of 6 and 59 months are anemic. Girls are more likely than boys to have anemia.

While tribal mothers have high rates of anemia, and girl children receive less than the desired nutritional intake. All told, the whole tribal community is deficient in adequate food intake, says a report on reproductive health status, issues and concerns of tribal women.

Nutrition hubs

The nutrition hubs work to address the issue of undernourishment among pregnant women and children. Apart from advising them to take iron folic acid tablets during pregnancy, as provided by the government, “mothers are told to consume variety of vegetables, leaves and ragi in different forms for adequate micro-nutrient supplementation,” Kuralla said. “The nutrition hub trains the community on how to grow leaves and vegetables and prepare different types of foods for better nutrition.”

After years of efforts, “during pregnancy, women are now taking iron folic tablets,” Golleri Lakshmi, the accredited social health activist (ASHA) at Godiguda village, told VillageSquare.in.

However, there are many issues to be overcome for sustainability of the changes that have come after the interventions.

Child marriage

The primary social issue in the valley is child marriage. As per NFHS-4 data, in rural Visakhapatnam, 34% of women between 20-24 years of age married before 18, and at least 10.5% of women between15-19 years of age have either become pregnant or become new mothers.

The scale of child marriage and early motherhood could be higher in tribal population. At least three in every five marriages involve brides below 18 years of age. “Normally girls in the communities marry after 14 years of age,” B. Abhiman, a political worker in Araku valley, told VillageSquare.in.

It is established that girls aged 15-19 are twice as likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s, and girls under 18 face a higher risk of pregnancy-related injuries such as fistula. Infants born to early adolescent mothers have a three-fold higher risk of post-neonatal death compared with adult mothers, studies found.

Need for education

Promotion of education among girls of tribal communities can address the issue and minimize the risk of child marriage and early pregnancy, says UN report, The Girl Child. In Visakhapatnam, female literacy in the tribal population has remained 34.67% only, according to the statistical abstract of Andhra Pradesh government. Rate of girls completing 10 or 12 years of education is abysmally low.

In regard to nutritional status of newborns, it is believed that the newborn must not be fed with the first milk of the mother, which deprives the child from highly nutritious colostrum and the antibodies the first milk contains. Apart from this, the tribal people of the valley do not consume cow milk, believing that it’s for the calves only.

Encouraging outcomes

Changing customary and normative beliefs and practices take time, said Vishal Phanse, Chief Executive Officer of Piramal Swasthya. “However, through the interventions so far in coherence with the government and district administration and by making use of technology for social good and development in public health sector, maternal mortality rate in all registered cases in the valley has come down to zero,” Phanse told VillageSquare.in.

This is despite the fact that Visakhapatnam district has a maternal mortality rate (MMR) of 115 per 100,000 registered live births. “Our focus is now on improving the status of health of adolescent girls,” he added.

Once restricted to their communities, pregnant tribal women are now showing interest in medical check-up, taking medicines and nutritional supplements, and in institutional delivery for their own safety and the health of the child, Vasanta, a pregnant mother of Muliaguda village said.

“Covering 181 villages under the Asara project, we deal with 250-300 cases of pregnant mothers almost every time,” said T. Swarnalatha, the program manager.

Changing scenario

Overall, the scenario is changing. Women have understood the benefits of modern healthcare facilities. As the women and others in the communities are changing their minds, the government mechanism has also become active to respond to health related issues of women, B. Abhiman said.

“Tribal women in the valley have become conscious about their health during pregnancy, a safe delivery and the health of their babies,” Sanmukha Reddy said.

Other than the issues like child marriage, education of girls and normative beliefs left to be addressed through a holistic approach to make the impacts sustainable, results of intervention in the arena of maternal health and nutrition in Araku valley, on the northern edges of Andhra Pradesh bordering Odisha's Koraput district, have no doubt made it a model for wider replication across tribal India.

This report first appeared at the VillageSquare on July 16, 2018.

October 20, 2017

Community radios in Odisha help improve gender parity

Broadcasting programs on gender inequality and against stigmas suffered by women in Odisha, community radio stations have effected a positive change in rural communities where girls are still the ignored population
As news of rampant female feticide in the Nayagarh district of Odisha broke in July 2017, it shocked Usha Patnaik, a social activist and president of Gania Unnayan Committee, a non-profit organization, as it did the rest of India.

Working for more than two decades on issues such as trafficking of girls and women, child marriage and gender-based discrimination, the news made her wonder about the very existence of females in society. “Being a female, I was scared,” she told VillageSquare.in. “How can a society imagine its future by eliminating a sex selectively at the fetal stage?”

However, 10 community radio stations are working in Odisha on changing the mindset of the people, to enable a better environment for the safety of girl children and women.

Endangered sex

Indicating decline in the sex ratio, female population in Nayagarh district has come down from 938 per 1,000 males in 2001 to 915 in 2011, as per the 2011 census report. More worrying is the sex ratio at birth during the last five years — the population of girl babies is 725 for every 1,000 male babies born, as per the National Family Health Survey 2015-16 (NFHS4). As per the 2001 and 2011 censuses, the sex ratio of children below six years in Nayagarh dropped from 904 to 855.

Apart from declining sex ratio, Nayagarh district has remained the epicenter of trafficking of girls under the guise of marriage since the 1990s. According to NFHS4, it is the sixth district of Odisha with high prevalence of child marriage. In the district, 31.3 % of women between 20 and 24 years of age got married before the age of 18.

“Nayagarh has a conservative patriarchal society where girls are still the ignored population. The indications of it are that many are killed selectively at the fetal stage, many are given in marriage at an early age and many are being trafficked to other states in the name of marriage,” Patnaik told VillageSquare.in.

Change through official machinery

With statistics indicative of the status of the female population, Nayagarh is included in the list of 100 districts covered nationwide under the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (Save a Girl Child, Educate a Girl Child) program. The Government of Odisha in association with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and other agencies has taken steps to strengthen implementation of the PCPNDT (Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques) Act, 1994 to check pre-natal sex determination and female feticide in the state.

In accordance with the state policy for girls and women and the state policy for youth, several other programs have been implemented to address gender-based issues and to create an enabling environment for girls.

As a result of the programs, administrative dynamism has improved. Sex ratio at birth in Nayagarh has increased to 883 by September 2016, as per the District Child Protection Unit (DCPU) reports. Through various campaigns, girls are encouraged to enroll in schools.

“The situation is changing. But to address the issues related to gender inequality, what still remains a challenge is, changing the behavior of people, despite the proactiveness of the administration and government machinery,” Pritikant Panda, District Child Protection Officer (DCPO) at Nayagarh, told VillageSquare.in.

Communicating achievements and awareness

Making its contribution to address the issues facing the female population of the district, the Daspalla-based Radio Surabhi, the only community radio station in Nayagarh, has started a program named Suna Jhia — the golden girl.

“The objective of the program is to tell positive stories highlighting small as well as big achievements of girls in the district through radio so that the parents feel proud of their daughter,” Sisir Kumar Das of Indian Institute of Education and Care, a non-profit organization that promotes Radio Surabhi, informed VillageSquare.in.

Prompted by the poor status of the girl child in the district, Suna Jhia program aims to bring awareness and build scientific temper in the communities while sensitizing the local administration on the ground realities, Das added.

“Now I realize that the two abortions I suffered and the several illnesses I suffer from are the results of my marriage at an early age. Now that I have learnt from the Suna Jhia program, I will advise girls not to marry early and have an ill fate like mine,” 55-year-old Kainta Gadatia of Adakata village in Daspalla administrative block told VillageSquare.in

Appreciating its objective and reach, though within a radius of about 15 km, “The DCPU is supporting the program from the beginning,” said Panda, the Nayagarh DCPO, adding that Suna Jhia has tremendous impact at the community level.

“In many cases, young boys are consulting officials and deferring their marriage when they find their bride-to-be younger than 18 years,” Sanjukta Dasgupta, a Daspalla-based social activist, informed VillageSquare.in.

Change through community radio

With 10 Community Radio Stations (CRS) operating in Odisha at present, issues related to social justice, gender equality and community development have got a stronger voice in their respective areas of coverage.

The Balianta-based Radio Kishan has successfully changed the mindset of betel leaf farmers who restricted women from working in the betel vine farms because of the women’s natural monthly menstruation. Women are now allowed to work in the betel leaf farms.

“Initially we faced resistance from the community. But things changed in favor of the women as our campaign was based on scientific facts and evidences,” Pradeepta Dutta of Radio Kishan told VillageSquare.in.

In Nuapada district, the Khariar-based Radio Swayamshakti has its focus on issues reflecting gender inequality and health problems in the community. Talking to VillageSquare.in, Biswajit Padhi, chief functionary of the CRS said, “We strive to make the radio an open forum, facilitating free convergence between communities and the Nuapada district administration.”

Way ahead

CRSs in Odisha have done tremendously well in keeping people as well as the administration informed during natural disasters, besides highlighting issues encountered by the grassroots communities. But there are several challenges to be overcome to keep the CRSs running and acting as an effective medium for community level convergence and development.

According to CRS managers, the primary issues include sustainability of the non-commercial radio serving the communities and its limited reach within a 10 km radius. Limited reach makes it difficult to achieve desired goals because geographically, communities do not live as a concentrated population. As the habitations are scattered even beyond the coverage area, community-focused radio programs do not reach all the intended audience.

Highlighting that government support is limited, Padhi in a note of dissent said, “UNICEF, which could support CRSs offers to broadcast content produced by it in association with BBC Media Action free of cost. If reputed global institutions start such practice, how can the CRSs sustain?” However, no comment on this could be obtained from UNICEF, despite attempts.

“Some international NGOs (iNGO) have started networking with local CRSs with their own agenda. If they push issues of their interest into the radio content, some of the issues concerning communities would be ignored by the local CRSs,” Sisir Das told VillageSquare.in, referring to a recently held national level consultation on community radios, organized by an Odisha-based CRS in partnership with an iNGO in Bhubaneswar.

“Such networking with iNGOs can help develop new models of sustainable community radio stations. This would be possible if the iNGOs support capacity building in the sector to identify and present issues that concern the community instead of interfering with the content,” according to him.
Padhi highlighted that minimum support for sustainability and capacity building would encourage more CRSs to be established in the state and energize them to be catalysts of change at the community level.

This report first appeared on October 18, 2017, at the VillageSquare.

July 28, 2017

Time’s Up, Age-Old Beliefs! Odisha Is Saying No to Child Marriage

Post-2008 riots in Odisha’s tribal populated Kandhamal district, when Rashmita Bagarti (now 27) started the Antarang (literally meaning intimate) Club in the Phiringia block to spearhead peacebuilding activities in the community, she had about 45 members. But to her worry, the number went down to 20 in about a year. As she looked for the reason behind such a drop in membership, she found that at least 12 young girls of the club had got married at an early age and left their villages.

"It was alarming! Because early marriage was the practice in tribal and Dalit communities and it was difficult to ensure long-term participation of young girls in the club. So, I decided to fight against child marriage alongside our peace-building activities," said Rashmita Bagarti, Social Activist.

According to Indian laws, marriage of a girl before the age of 18 and a boy before the age of 21 is child marriage.

Age-Old Beliefs

Home to 62 tribal communities, including 13 particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTG), making 22.85 per cent of the state population, child marriage is still a norm in the tribal-dominated districts of Odisha, as in Kandhamal.
"This is an age-old practice. Again, having a girl for a longer time at home after puberty is a big risk. While it’s always difficult to get a groom for a girl who doesn’t fit the conventional concept of being young, there is also the risk of love relationships and elopement" - Sanmati Durua (65), Resident, Chanchraguda village, Koraput
"Poverty, deep-rooted gender discrimination and dowry system increase the vulnerability of girls to early marriage" - Puspashri Debi, Member, ActionAid India, Bhubaneswar
According to Jitendra Pattnaik, a Nuapada-based social activist, “Girls are married off early to rid the family from their burden. Parents believe, delay in marriage of a girl would cost more dowry and cause difficulties in getting a groom.”
"Parents in left-wing extremism (LWE)-affected areas are almost compelled to get their children married to save them (the children) from being picked up by extremist groups, who are on a look out for new cadres regularly, said a development activist of Kalahandi district on conditions of anonymity."
The 2015-16 National Family Health Survey (NFHS4) indicates that the top five child marriage prevalent districts are all tribal dominated and affected by LWE. While the percentage of married women in the age group of 20-24, who got married before they turned 18, remains 39.3 percent in Malkangiri, it is 37.9 percent in Nabarangpur, 35 percent in Mayurbhanj, 34.7 percent in Koraput and 34.4 percent in Rayagada.

Statewide Prevalence

Of other districts, Nayagarh has 31.3 percent of married women in the age group of 20-24 who married before 18. In Khordha, of which the state capital of Bhubaneswar is a part, it is 18.1 per cent.
In Odisha, nearly 21.3 per cent of the currently married women in 20-24 age group married before 18. It was 37.2 percent during NFHS3 (2005-06). Similarly, 11 percent of married men within the age group of 25-29 got married before 21, as per NFHS4, which was 22.2 percent during the NFHS3.
Although child marriage is more prevalent in rural and tribal hinterlands, its presence in urban areas is equally concerning. The difference between urban and rural prevalence is only 2.2 percent for women and 3.6 percent for men of the aforesaid age group.

Health Issues

“Child marriage violates children’s basic rights to survival, development, protection and participation,” said Laxminarayan Nanda, Child Protection Specialist at UNICEF, Odisha.
"It limits the freedom of girls and boys and narrows down the scope of dreaming a future of choice. Child marriage also results in the loss of lives and hampers any effort of reducing IMR (infant mortality rate) and MMR (maternal mortality rate) as it leads to malnutrition among mothers and children" - Ghasiram Panda, Activist, ActionAid India.
Another flip side of child marriage is the higher risk of contracting HIV, along with domestic violence and teenage pregnancy, which are among the leading causes of death in girls aged between 15-19.
A World Bank-ICRW joint report has warned earlier that child marriage will cost the developing world trillions of dollars by 2030 because of discontinuation of schooling, health issues, malnutrition, maternal and infant mortality etc.
Ray of Hope

Odisha, however, has been successful in scaling down the prevalence of child marriage in many districts between NFHS3 (2005-06) and NFHS4 (2014-15).

Due to the actions and interventions by both government and non-government agencies, young girls like Daimati Santa of Koraput, Phulmani Raita of Gajapati, Minakshi Guru of Jajpur have stood against child marriage. Many boys have also said no to marriage before turning 21.
"This has become possible due to the transformation of girls into change agents. Having their own space in the form of adolescent girl clubs so that they can discuss their issues freely, is enabling them to spread awareness across the community, thus ensuring an appropriate environment for a smooth transition to adulthood" - Sanjukta Tripathy, Activist, PREM (UNFPA-supported programme).
PREM is a non-profit organisation that manages the UNFPA supported programme under its Action for Adolescent Girls (AAG) initiative in Gajapati’s Gumma block.

“Communities that were hesitant to talk about this issue earlier are now discussing it. Many have even resolved to stop child marriage in their respective communities,” Ghasiram Panda observed.

Need to Spread Awareness

“Yet, the mindset of people who believe in it, promote it and encourage the practice. It has to be changed through reinvigorated action and intervention,” said Laxminarayan Nanda.

According to Dr Amrita Patel, State Project Coordinator of Odisha State Resource Centre for Women, “Community awareness, building on girls’ education and capacity building of families are necessary. Alongside, implementation of the law and awareness are also needed.”

Raising the issue of almost nil registration of cases under the Prevention of Child Marriage Act, Dr Patel urged, “Prosecution has to be strong.”
"On the other hand, prevention is also a critical strategy. However, in today’s world, skill building and making the girls economically independent will take more than curbing the problem of child marriage" - Dr Amrita Patel, State Project Coordinator, Odisha State Resource Centre for Women.
Bringing to fore the issues of dowry as exploitation leading to an unsafe atmosphere for girls in the society, Puspashri Debi sought proper implementation of the Dowry Prohibition Act.

Anticipating growing incidents of elopement due to media exposure from childhood, she insisted that “priority should be on creating a safe space for the adolescent to discuss sexuality and personal issues in a free environment.”

The report first appeared on July 25, 2017, at The Quint

April 28, 2017

Interventions to stop child marriages raise hopes in Odisha

The practice of underage marriage is acute in the tribal-dominated southern and southwestern parts of Odisha, but interventions on the ground are planting the seeds of change among adolescent girls and their parents

The pensive look on the face of three-year-old Devati Durua of Chanchraguda village in Koraput district could very well change to distress if she is married before she comes of age at 18. That remains a distinct possibility in the underdeveloped area where indigenous people are known to widely practice child marriage.

Although India has laws to prevent child marriage, it remains prevalent in many parts of the country. The country is said to lose $56 billion (Rs 3.6 trillion) a year as a result of adolescent pregnancy, high secondary school dropout rate and joblessness among young women, according to the State of World Population 2016 of the United Nations Population Fund. As per the Indian laws, marriages of girls before the age of 18 and boys before the age of 21 are considered child marriages. 

Pan-Odisha problem

The situation is particularly alarming in the eastern state of Odisha. As much as 21.3 percent women between the age of 20 and 24 years married before the age of 18 and 11 percent of men between the age of 25 and 29 married before attaining the age of 21, according to the National Family Health Survey 2015-16 (NFHS-4) report. Unsurprisingly, the number of child marriages is more in rural Odisha. However, “there is significant variation amongst districts,” Amrita Patel, State Project Coordinator of Odisha State Resource Centre for Women, told VillageSquare.in.
The prevalence of the practice is wider in the tribal populated backward districts of the state. “Over 50 percent of marriages in the tribal communities are underage or child marriages,” said Gopi Durua, 25, of Devati’s family who too had married before the age of 21.
“This is a pan-Odisha issue although the practice is further acute in the tribal-dominated southern and a few southwestern districts of the state,” Ghasiram Panda, communication in-charge at ActionAid, Odisha, and an advisor to Odisha Child Right Commission, told VillageSquare.in.

An adult girl child being considered a burden on the family in most tribal and backward communities, lack of awareness and a host of socio-economic problems including abject poverty and a poor female literacy rate are often blamed for such wide prevalence.

“The tribal communities also believe that early marriage is their tradition. When you ask them to stop the tradition, they think you are trying to mobilize them against their traditional practices,” said Bhanumati Santa of Gamkapadar village in Koraput district.

“As cases where boys and girls falling in love and opting to marry in elopement have been increasing, most of the parents also see a kind of social risk in allowing their daughters to continue studies instead of getting married at a tender age. They believe that marrying the girls at an early age is the safest way to escape such risks that would otherwise demean the social status of the parents and the family,” said Sanmati Durua, 60, of Chanchraguda village.

Possibility of change

Basanti Jani, 16, of Janiguda village in Koraput district, however, sees greater possibilities with continuous awareness programs. “Our parents must be made aware of the possible impacts of early marriage on the health of their daughter and the future of her family. They must be explained how they are putting the lives of their daughters at risk by marrying them at an early age,” she told VillageSquare.in.

Talking about the social fallout of child marriage, Panda stated that “such a practice not only affects the health, education and status of victim women in the society but it also endangers the future generation in many ways while affecting their physical and mental health.”

“Unless child marriage is stopped, it would be difficult to achieve the goal of controlling infant and maternal mortalities in the state,” he added.

In order to stop child marriage, recent initiatives by Odisha’s Women and Child Development department include facilitation of interdepartmental convergence on the issue of child marriage. The government also has plans to conduct training programs for Child Marriage Prohibition Officers, gender sensitization of college and University students across the state and orientation of high school students in 12 tribal districts, according to Patel.

Changing scenario

Interventions from the government as well as non-government agencies to stop the practice have brought in some changes.

Sensitized by Adivasi Ekta Sangathan or Ekta, a Koraput-based non-profit, on the ill impacts of child marriage and the importance of education for a girl, Daimati Santa of Gamkapadar village has dared to stand against the proposal of her marriage when she is only 16-year-old.

Daimati has been successful in convincing her parents and the groom’s family to defer the marriage til she turns an adult and, also, to allow her to continue with the higher secondary studies.

Though sporadic, such cases of girls opposing early marriage and expressing their desire to continue with education are being seen in different places of Koraput and other tribal populated districts of Odisha.

Some regions like the Gumma block in Gajapati districts have even made them free from child marriages where the practice was rampant a few years back.

After intervention by the United Nations Population Fund, “child marriage has almost stopped. Dropout students go to school again and girls from this tribal populated block are now working outside and make an earning,” said Mariyam Raita, a local woman leader.

“The change has been possible due to the engagement of the community and all other stakeholders in the process of change. Adolescent girls participating and taking the lead to bring in the change in their lives remained the key to the success achieved,” said Sanjukta Tripathy of the Berhampur-based non-profit People’s Rural Education Movement (PREM) who works as the project manager of the UNFPA supported intervention.

More action required

“The changes that have come in the tribal dominated regions raise hope about addressing the problem. The tribal communities have started realising the bad effects of early marriage and are now discussing the issue,” said Ghasiram Panda.

In order to stop the practice, “more community awareness, building on girls’ education and capacity building of the families are necessary. But, alongside, use of the law and awareness about the law is also needed,” said Amrita Patel.

Insisting that the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006 should be made more stringent and enforceable, Patel highlighted that “in today’s world skill building and making the girls economically independent will go a long way in curbing the problem of child marriage.”

This report first appeared on April 24, 2017, at the VillageSquare.

March 15, 2017

Ending child marriage by making young girls the agents of change

Though child marriage continues to remain a serious global concern, interventions to contrast it carried out by governments and global organisations are starting to show results. Raising hope to end the practice, the Gumma block in India’s Gajapati district, populated by tribal populations, has taken centre stage by becoming child marriage free thanks to a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) programme involving thousands of girls in adolescent clubs to learn and share their views on the topic. 

The issue of child marriage

Defined as marriage before the age of 18, child marriage is particularly prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. It will affect an average of a little over 15 million girls a year starting from 2021 to 2030 if present trends continue, the UNFPA cautions.

For example in India almost 27 per cent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 got married when they were still girls and a little over 20 per cent of men aged 25 to 29 married as boys, reveals India’s 2015-16 National Family Health Survey (NFHS). The report also states that nearly 8 per cent of women between 15 and 19 years of age attain motherhood or pregnancy.

The country loses 56 billion dollars a year as a result of adolescent pregnancy, high secondary school dropout rates and joblessness among young women, according to the UNFPA’s State of World Population 2016. Despite special laws and legal provisions for the prohibition of child marriage, objectives remain unfulfilled because of lack of public awareness and insufficient enforcement. 

The case of Gumma

300 kilometres south of Bhubaneswar, the capital of the eastern Indian state of Odisha, Gumma block – an administrative unit below that of district and above that of small town or village – has suffered social ailments such as high rates of school dropout among girls, early marriage and adolescent motherhood. This until two years ago the UNFPA decided to intervene under the Action for Adolescent Girls programme.

Adolescence among girls was almost missing. Early marriage, which often resulted in motherhood and pregnancy at a tender age placing the lives of both the mothers and their children at risk, was rampant,” according to the programme’s manager Sanjukta Tripathy from the agency implementing it, People’s Rural Education Movement. “It happened because parents weren’t aware,” community leader Mariyam Raita commented. 

Change from below

Though the task of fighting the age-old practice was difficult, it was made possible by community involvement and education, and because it was the adolescent girls from the communities themselves to have taken on the role of agents of change, Tripathy explains.

At least 3416 girls between 10 and 19 years of age came together through 211 adolescent clubs across Gumma. Resource centres called Ashakiran equipped with computers, printers, internet facilities and television sets worked as safe spaces for meeting, learning, sharing ideas, discussing issues and watching movies. “The change is now visible. These girls who didn’t know about computers are now seeing them physically, touching and operating them. This is a big thing for our girls,” said Mariyam Raita. 

Inspiring outcomes 

Girls like Ankita who stopped her education at class VIII have been sent to school again. Many like Phulmani have convinced their parents to defer their marriage until they’ve attained adulthood, whilst Ranjita and others who married early have decided to delay pregnancy. After receiving skill training many of the girls are now working outside the district and some are self-employed.

“Surpassing the shyness, these girls now speak out, laugh, play and dance without any inhibition,” Tripathy says recalling the initial days of intervention. The outcomes aren’t only inspiring but also bear enormous possibilities for wider replication to end child marriage in other areas of India and the world. 

This report first appeared on March 13, 2017, at the LifeGate