Child Marriage Campaign

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In West Bengal, over 40% of women from socially excluded groups are married before the age of 18. Girls who are married early are commonly forced to drop out of school and child marriages often result in teenage pregnancies that pose a higher risk of health complications for both mothers and babies. To try and combat these problems, PACS partners in the State worked together on a youth campaign to prevent early marriage. 

Furjune and her Self-Help Group for adolescent girls.

Why is child marriage an issue for socially excluded groups in West Bengal?

31.6% of women in West Bengal are married before they are 18. However, amongst socially excluded groups this rate is considerably higher – 40.3% of women from Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes and Muslim communities are married before they enter adulthood.

There are three main problems caused by early marriage:

  1. Girls who are married early tend to drop-out of school – they are expected to stay at home to look after their husband and in-laws.
  2. Teenage girls have a greater risk of complications during pregnancy and childbirth, and babies are more likely to be underweight.
  3. Girls do not tend to give birth in hospitals because the JSY maternal health programme does not cover girls under 18.

Child marriage endangers girls' education, health and futures. Child marriage endangers girls' education, health and futures.

What was the PACS campaign against child marriage?

The four PACS partners in West Bengal worked together on a campaign to raise awareness amongst socially excluded families about the dangers of child marriage. The campaign was run in 5 districts - Jalpaiguri, Murshidabad, Uttar Dinajpur, Dakshin Dinajpur and Maldah – where there are higher percentages of marginalised groups.

Under the campaign, partners worked with adolescent boys and girls to sensitise them about the importance of girls’ education, the risk of teenage pregnancy and the benefits of waiting to get married. Not only are these the groups the ones at risk of child marriage, they are also better at directly spreading the message about the dangers of child marriage to their friends and peer groups.

“Women and girls should not be confined to the home, the kitchen or the fields,” explains Furjune whose local Self-Help Group empowered her to fight against her arranged marriage at the age of 16. “We are not machines, just meant to sew or to bear children. We deserve an education, the chance to be more.”

Each partner used a variety of methods to promote the campaign. Their activities included:

  • Forming community youth groups, teaching them about their rights, entitlements and the dangers of child marriage.
  • Developing young community leaders, helping them to organise, lead and plan awareness-raising campaigns within their communities.
  • Using young peoples’ creative skills, such as drama, dance, song, and art, to educate their communities.
  • Training youth as peer-educators and counselors, helping them to speak with friends and provide support where young people are facing parental pressure.
  • Advocating with local service providers, such as hospitals, local government and schools.

In order to have a bigger impact, PACS partners collaborated with Panchayati Raj Institutions (local governance systems) and government departments (such as the Department of Health and Family Welfare, the Department of Women, Child and Social Welfare and the Department of Law Enforcement) to help promote the campaign.

They also organised various high-profile events, including a rally against child marriage held on International Women’s Day 2015. Both community members and government officials attended the event.

17 year old Almira (who stood up against her own marriage) believes it is important to work together with the government. “To stop child marriages, the Government should enact stricter and more easily-enforced laws,” she explains. “We also need more programmes that build girls’ income generating and vocational skills to economically empower them.” She and her Self-Help Group for teenage girls are advocating for this.

Supported by PACS, Almira has set-up her own Self-Help Group for adolescent girls, helping to fight early marriage and promote girls’ education. Supported by PACS, Almira has set-up her own Self-Help Group for adolescent girls, helping to fight early marriage and promote girls’ education.

What impact did the PACS campaign against child marriage have?

In total, PACS partners prevented over 113 child marriages from happening.

Since 2012, partner NOSKK have:

  • Prevented 26 cases of early marriage
  • Held 52 Community Awareness meetings on early marriage
  • Organised a 21km cycle rally to celebrate International Women’s Day and raise awarness
  • Collaborated with the Health Department during Save Motherhood Week (12-18 April 2015) working with Auxiliary Nuse Midwives and Health Supervisors to raise awareness of the dangers of child marriage on girls’ health.

Since 2011, partner SMOKUS have:

  • Prevented 39 cases of child marriage.
  • Held 400 Self-Help Group sessions, 54 community meetings and 5 youth camps to raise awareness of the issue of child marriage.
  • Organised 22 street drama plays to reach out to communities.

Since 2013, partner JSS have:

  • Raised awareness about early marriage in the tea garden tribal communities of Shikarpur, Kathalguri and Deklapara by working with 230 PACS-supported Community Based Organisations (including Self-Help Groups and Village Health and Sanitation Committees).
  • Organised campaigning and health awareness workshops working jointly with service providers and Panchayat members.

Since 2012, partner CINI have:

  • Prevented 48 child marriages.
  • Organised 22 street dramas.
  • Helped youth and children’s groups to organise 70 awareness-raising events in their communities and schools.
  • Organised 16 rallies to raise awareness on child marriage.
  • Organised a workshop with a Police Station on early marriage and trafficking.

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