Nav Bharat Jagriti Kendra (NBJK) has been working at the grassroots in Jharkhand and Bihar states of India for past 43 years. NBJK tried to find the causes of child marriage in Jharkhand and found that unawareness about the rights and dropout of girls from schools are most common factor for child marriages in India. With the kind support of UNICEF, Jharkhand NBJK started “Child Reporters Programme” from July 2010 in 100 schools of 5 blocks of Ranchi, Jharkhand. Among the 4 rights identified at United Nations Child Rights Convention held at Geneva, 1989, the programme focuses on “Right to Participation”.
Soni Kumari is one of the students of class X at Madhya Vidyalaya, Bhonda, Ratu. She is 16 years old. She belongs to Schedule Tribe community and lost her father in her early childhood. She is youngest and has 2 sisters and 2 brothers. Her mother looks after all of them by working as a daily wage labourer. They are living Below Poverty Line and her brother is also working at daily wage labourer to contribute to the family income.
NBJK’s coordinators met Soni in the year 2010 during school visit under “Child Reporters Programme”. Soni was in class VI that time and was a very bright girl. She liked to study and despite no support from the family she took admission in government school near her village. Soni along with all her class mates were made aware about the child rights. Since the areas are remote, even teachers are not aware of the child rights. Teacher’s orientation was done through regular meetings. To increase the confidence, Soni was given training on report writing skills. She was encouraged to write articles about her village, about her views on social issues and with the support of a local newspaper; these articles were published in the newspaper. She used to become very happy to see her article being published in newspaper, one of the most effective ways to raise voices. Many exposer visits to other schools and interaction with other students were organised to have clear understanding and to get different perspective on several issues. Meetings with people’s representatives, government officials and regular interaction with media personnel further build the confidence.
All these activities helped in empowerment of Soni. One day, when she was still in class VIII and 14 years old, her mother was trying to fix marriage of her elder sister. When the male person visited her house to see her elder sister, he instead proposed Soni for marriage. Soni was shocked, as she did not even imagined it. She knew it’s her right to study and it was not appropriate age to marry. She protested but her mother dint listened to her and fixed the marriage. Being from a very poor family, her mother was happy that at least one of her daughter is getting married and now she does not have to look after her.
But with regular training on Child Rights and interaction with government officials, people’s representatives and media personnel, Soni had enough confidence and courage to go against her family wish. She firmly protested against her marriage and even threatened to go to police or run away from house.
Watching Soni determination, her mother was forced to cancel her marriage. Currently Soni is very happy. She is studying in class X and has a dream of becoming a nurse. She says, she will only marry once she is ready and starts earning.
Soni is among many other girls who have successfully stopped their or their friend’s marriage and have encouraged many others to continue their schools.
Currently, 443 girls are getting good education and have avoided early marriage through girl’s sponsorship programme. know more about girl’s sponsorship programme here.