India is home to the largest number of child brides in the world. Dalit children, as members of the lowest caste in India are especially at risk of child marriage and face discrimination at almost every level. Read about what we are doing to tackle child marriage and create protective environments for the Dalit children we work with.
Last year we introduced Poonam who lives in Patna, India and attended a Bihar State government school until seventh grade. Her parents pulled her out of school, despite her protests, so that she could work to support her family’s increasing household expenses. At just 17, her parents then made arrangements for her to marry a local boy.
After the discussion, Poonam’s parents agreed to enrol her into the NIOS programme, helping Poonam to study for her secondary level exams.
The NIOS programme has flourished since we met Poonam last summer but the girls enrolled are still facing pressure to marry young. There are currently 40 learners on the secondary level programme. 26 of them registered for the NIOS exams during April 2022 and 14 are preparing to appear for examinations in October this year.
“It’s very difficult for the families to resist the social pressure of local norms and customs, and they yield to marrying children off as teenagers. These children usually discontinue learning completely or become irregular in classes and, in the end, are not able to appear for the examinations”.
It is estimated that 1.5 million girls under 18 get married in India each year, making it home to the largest number of child brides in the world. Dalit children, as members of the lowest caste in India are especially at risk of child marriage and face discrimination at almost every level.
Our programme in India looks to change this by creating protective environments for Dalit children in and surrounding Patna in Bihar State through a number of initiatives.
Staff and teachers are making every effort to keep the girls we support, both on the NIOS programme and in education in general. We know that access to education and increased literacy amongst girls and mothers can help to reduce instances of child marriage and protect young girls from the practice.
So, we work with our local partner in India, NESWSD to encourage community advocacy and support over 1,200 children to access education through 31 Learning Centres and the four National Open Schooling centres (NIOS) to help children, especially young girls, get a quality education and open up opportunities for their futures.
We also work closely with parents to help them realise the value of education and encourage them to let their children continue their studies. Staff and teachers provide training in the wider community, make home visits and have conducted awareness programmes for children and women’s groups over the past few years, to help parents see the value in education and the detrimental effects of child marriage on their children.
They have also installed new child safeguarding registers in all the learning centres, which are also used for the NIOS programme participants. Teachers have had training on the various kinds of cases that might be reported, and the available mechanisms to take action. Teachers are encouraging the children to register any cases they might come across, or experience themselves and they are already having an impact.
Usha Kumari, one of the students on the NIOS programme, was preparing for her Grade 10 exams when her parents announced they had chosen a husband and fixed a date for her marriage. She reported this via the register and when her teacher spent time with the parents, telling them how talented she is and how damaging an early marriage would be for her future, they decided to delay the marriage.
Our work tackling child marriage in this area is focused not just on the children, but also their teachers. A new ‘Flourish’ programme offers a mentoring course for teenage children, supporting them to deal with the emotional, physical and mental developments during their adolescent years and help them understand the impact of child marriage.
One of the teachers involved is Gurdiya Kumari. She is 20 years old and has recently been pressured by her family to get married to a much older man. She says:
One of our learning centre teachers, Meena Kumari is 24 years old and was subjected to child marriage at the age of 16. She suffered physical and mental abuse in her home and had no confidence until she was trained as a teacher.
Our programme in India is helping to reduce instances of child marriage and child labour and ensures that children, especially girls, receive the education they deserve. They can now hope for a better future and break out of the cycle of poverty, abuse and exclusion.
Thanks to the hard work of the teachers and our partner staff, they have observed that the average age of marriage for girls in the areas where we work has increased from 14 to at least 17 years old.
Whilst there is still a huge amount of work to be done, it is positive to see that change is happening.