The children stopped child marriages in Topa Pahadi, a tribal dominated hamlet in Nawada district of Bihar, where a minor girl Kajal (11) and three minor sons of Umar Bhula named Mitu Bhula (13), Surendra Bhula (11) and Mukesh Bhula (10) were being forced in marriage against their will. Kajal was to be married with Mitu. Their marriage have been stopped by a group of children of neighboring village Faguni. These children are hard core social activists, who are aware of their rights and responsibilities as well. They think and work together for the welfare of their villages. They are bound to eradicate all social evils and committed for child rights protection. That's why, they opposed these marriages.
The locals are almost living the life of primitive age here. There is no MNREGA, no Antyodya, no Sarvshiksha Abhiyan and no Ladli scheme in this area. In nutshell, this region is in the paws of all wrong reasons of life. Migration, human trafficking, child marriage are some of them.“...since, it is hard to find life partner for a girl, if she crosses the age of 16-17, so the locals are bound to put their daughters in the nuptial knot before she attends puberty. This is why, child marriage has become a tradition”, says Narain Singh of Topa pahadi village. “That's why early marriage became a regular feature, otherwise our daughters will remain unmarried. Then who will care for them?”, asks basudev Bhula, father of Kajal, the bride.
Aged long poverty and tradition of child marriage in society is the main cause of systematic sexual abuse, limited access to education and early pregnancy among the girls. Young brides are often forced to produce many children before their body is physically ready, putting them at a high risk of serious complications during childbirth or even death. However, this tradition is banned in India under the Child Marriage Prevention Act of 1929. But the practice of child-marriages is still prevalent in many parts of rural India including Topa Pahadi.
Topa Pahadi, 45 km from district head quarter Nawada, does not have basic amenities in and around, so locals are bound to face all sorts of adversities. Residents of the hamlets live in tough mountainous terrain, linked to the other hamlets by a series of narrow dirt tracks. Daily life in the hamlets stands in stark contrast to the modern and glamorous existence around the urban communities of Koderma, Giridih and Nawada. For decades, the forgotten residents of this locality survived without access to clean water, health and education facilities or markets. Until recently, leaving the hamlets meant a long walk to reach the nearest paved road. Additionally, the lack of access to basic necessities meant that many of the children living in the remote hamlets of this locality are illiterate and suffering from high rates of malnutrition.
Recently, some of the activists of Bachpan Bachao Aandolan (BBA), a Delhi based pioneer civil society organisation to save childhood, came to know that these marriages were going to be held next week. Meanwhile, in Phaguni, the school going children, who have their own Panchayat by the name of Bal Panchayat (an elected body of children of this civil society BBA, to make a child friendly world, free from exploitation, where they can receives education, recreation and health facilities, their voices being heard and participation ensured and in an environment of friendliness, rights and dignity in the community including intense consciousness raising efforts to challenge and change age-old mindsets based on many social, cultural and gender biases, sensitising and involving all stakeholders), became active and rushed to the spot. They organised a meeting with villagers including children and women. The members pressurized the concerned guardians. They also convinced them about the bad effects of child marriage. They made them aware that education is more important than marriage. The activists of BBA explained them that child marriages is bad both for girls as well as boys. In many cases, marriage also put an end to education of girls.
And, “....if they become pregnant in young age, their health gets compromised as they are not physically compatible to bear the burden of motherhood”, says Dr. Mukhtarul Haq, an activist of BBA. “Childhood is for playing and learning, not to carry the burden of family life. The soft shoulders of children are incapable for. Their tiny-soft hands should not be engaged in cooking and doing household chores. So, our daughters must be kept away from the chains of social evils like child marriage”, says Dhananjay Tingal, an activist of BBA. “Forcing children, especially girls, into early marriages are physically and emotionally harmful. It violates their rights to personal freedom and growth”, he adds.
The children of Bal Panchayat convinced the guardians of bride and grooms and finally stopped the wedding. These cases are actually enforced by extreme poverty, orthodox way of life and ignorance, even after six decades of independence. The BBA promised to help these children pursue their dreams of getting an education. The BBA is already running a school in
Topa Pahadi hamlet. “As part of movement, we have succeeded in stopping several child marriages. But there are still such cases due to administration's in-activeness,” says member of this Bal Panchayat.
“There is a need of wide range of individuals and organizations like NGOs, civil societies, elected bodies apart from administration to take action to prevent child marriage. Education is key to this process”, Dr. Haq opines. The enthusiasm and courage of the children of Bal Panchayat of Phaguni is inspiration for the whole society.