The issue of Child Marriage has been heavily debated in the Indian Government since the early 1900s. The shortcomings of The Child Marriage Restraint Act (1929) was fixed by The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (2006), which came into effect in late 2007.
Despite the legislative measures taken by the Government, child marriage continues to be a harsh reality in Indian society today. More than one third of all the child brides in the world live in India. Nearly half the women (47%) in the country between the ages of 20 – 24 are married before the age of 18, according to UNICEF’s Child Marriage Fact Sheet, 2011.
This can be attributed to two main reasons: societal pressure and concerns about the girl’s safety. Many communities pressure families to adhere to the traditional systems. They are reluctant to adapt to concepts like abolition of child marriage as they believe it disrespects tradition. Additionally, many parents are fearful for the safety of their unmarried daughters. In many parts of the country, unmarried women are considered “fair game” but married women are mostly left alone. Marriage also brings economic security.
The Child Rights Protection Forum, therefore, understands the need to combat child labour on different levels.
1. Constant Vigilance: The CRPF maintains a close watch on a village level and educates the parents of daughters about the importance of avoiding marriage at a young age.
2. Community Mobilisation: The CRPF mobilises the support of the community to ensure that girl children are not married until they reach 18 years of age.
3. Involvement of Governmental Bodies: The CRPF involves bodies such as the police force and MROs to protest against and stop situations of child marriage.
4. Public Pressure: When the CRPF identifies a violation of the Child Marriage Prohibition Act, a number of volunteers in that area come together to pressure the agencies, individuals or religious institutions to stop the marriage.
These strategies have been very effective in the areas of activity. “We have stopped over 3000 child marriages in 2008,” states a member of the CRPF in the Chittoor district.
Mass Marriages on Mahashivarathri
Every year, mass marriages are organized at the Srikalahasti temple in Chittoor on Mahashivarathri day. A number of child marriages are usually carried out during the mass marriage event for a number reasons. Mahashivarathri is an important religious event in Andhra Pradesh. As a result, thousands of devotees gather at the temple and witness the marriages.
In 2006, the CRPFs decided to put an end to the child marriages that were camouflaged by the mass marriages. They intervened in several ways, such as:
● Petitions to Human Rights Commissions
● Displaying posters in popular locations to spread the word
● Street plays in the surrounding villages and the temple itself to promote awareness
● Coordinating with the Superintendent of Police with regards to enforcing child marriage legislation
● Compulsory registrations of all marriages, including verification of ages of all brides and grooms
CRPF’s multi-pronged strategies have been enormously successful. They continue to carry about similar campaigns wherever the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act is violated.
Community participation has proven itself to be a valuable tool in education. Empowering the community to participate in the decision-making process in the school system is hugely beneficial. This participation, which is often manifested in the form of discussion, can induce educational reform. The community also acts as watchdogs, ensuring that the school administrative system delivers the best possible output possible.
Influence of Community Organizations
The community is the core strength of MVF, their influence cannot be overstated. A case story from the Nalgonda district illustrates this argument.
The CRPF of the Nalgona district surveyed 245 Government hostels. It took one month and a number of people affliated with MVF as well as CRPF to complete the task. The purpose of the survey was to verify if the hostels were providing the best possible they could. During the course of this survey, a number of badly run hostels were identified; complaints were lodged against the same.
Unsurprisingly, the warden of the Social Welfare Scheduled Caste girls hostel had the MVF District In-charge arrested on bribery allegations. Complaints were also lodged with the police against MVF volunteers.
Immediately, a large number of CRPF members from various sections of the community joined hands to shed light on the truth of the matter. The MVF volunteer was released quickly and the warden’s false allegations were exposed.
This is but one example of the growing influence of community organizations like the CRPF.
Development of Local Schools
Community organizations also play a vital role in the revitalizing and development of local schools. T. Champath Rao is the Sarpanch for Utnoor Village in Adilabad District. His association with MVF began when volunteers reached out to him to spread awareness about MVF’s campaigns. Following this, he visited an MVF Residential Brigde Course Camp to ascertain for himself the veracity and worth of MVF’s operation.
His doubts assuaged, started a CRPF and a youth group in his village in 2001. In addition to fighting child labour, these community organizations joined hands to develop the local schools.
By way of fundraisers and awareness rallies, they were able to raise enough money for two new bore wells. They were left with enough to purchase land for the construction of a high school.
With regards to the program, Rao says, “The village gained power both from giving and getting support from MVF; the community was able to come together to discuss and improve the school.”
Currently, the community organizations in the village also focus on matters related to child health.
A great Government is remembered for its people, not the laws passed during its reign. In its two decades worth of experience in combating child labour, MVF has had the privilege of working with some truly inspiring Panchayat leaders. One such Sarpanch is Mahendra Gowd, from the Tallapally Village in Ranga Reddy District.
Association with MVF
Gowd is no stranger to MVF or its programs. He joined the CRPF in 1996 – ‘97, at which point there were 87 out-of-school children in the mandal. He went on a door-to-door motivation initiative to educate parents on the importance of sending their children to school.
Gowd has also worked on abolition of child marriage and motivating girls to pursue education. He was a vital link between the CRPF and the then Sarpanch, who was also invited to be involved in the program.
Induction into Panchayat
10 years after joining the CRPF, Mahendra Gowd stood for elections in 2006 and won. At the time, a good many members of the Panchayat were ignorant about MVF and its programs. Due to Gowd’s persistence by way of regular meetings and discussions, all the current members of the Panchayat are both aware of the programs and actively working on these issues. These meetings include ward members, representatives from the CRPF, DWARCA and youth groups.
The Panchayat members visit the 4 Government schools in their village twice a month to monitor the attendance of both students and teachers, as well as the learning levels of the children. Corporal punishment in both Government and private schools is a cause for concern, which the Panchayat has taken up with Gowd at the helm. Gowd mobilizes financial support for the school for infrastructure purposes.
Gowd believes in the carrot-and-stick approach. On one impromptu visit to a school, he discovered that all the teachers had absented themselves. Not one to allow wastage of resources, he took the school assembly and began to teach classes for the students himself. This incident, due to its unique nature, was reported in the press. The teachers were shamed in addition to being officially reprimanded.
When the subject of Child Rights was first broached, it was understandably met with hostility. Parents declared that they required their children to herd goats and cows or help with the family business. Thanks to Gowd’s rallies, awareness campaigns and his hands-on approach, child labour has been eradicated in Tallapally Village. Due to Gowd’s perseverance, child marriage has also been stamped out in the village.
The Panchayat ensures that Child Rights are upheld for every single child in the 0 – 18 age group. It periodically surveys the villagers and collects valuable information on health issues such as nutrition, development, pregnancies, child mortality and immunization. It monitors birth certificate registration, anganwadi attendance, school attendance and marriage. This data is a point of pride for the Panchayat and is displayed outside the Panchayat office for all to see.
Gowd is a called a “Model Sarpanch” for a reason. His persistence and perseverance to eradicating child labour and upholding Child Rights has influenced an entire community. Gowd’s biggest legacy is the creation of an environment for sustainable protection of Child Rights, which ensures that the rights of future children in the village will also be protected.
“It’s the children the world almost breaks who grow up to save it.”
― Frank Warren
The most important, and often the most inspiring, stories that emerge from MVF are stories of the children themselves. MVF has had the privilege of watching these children transform from beaten down child labourers to inspirational leaders in their own right. They are living proof that the circumstances of your past do not dictate your future. They are both the cause of MVF’s existence as well as the motivation for MVF’s persistence.
In the past two decades, MVF has been able to create a major impact in various villages across Andhra Pradesh. It is a firm believer in revitalizing existing Governmental institutions in place of establishing alternative education centres, which are unsustainable. To achieve its goal, MVF collaborates with schools, the Gram Panchayat, the School Education Committee and youth volunteer groups.
This is the story of Ravulapally Village in Sharkarpally Mandal, Ranga Reddy District. MVF arrived at the village in 1992 and discovered that 200 children were engaged in employment of some kind, while 25 were bonded labourers.
At the time, the village’s only educational institution was a grossly-understaffed one-room school. All the classes (from 1st modus operandi, the MVF volunteers had begun encouraging parents to send their children to school. MVF worked in partnership with the parents and the Gram Panchayat to resolve what had now become a community concern.
There were three key players in this success story:
1. The Panchayat: The Panchayat initiated a successful fund-raising program for the school. Every villager in possession of a ration card was required to donate Rs. 5 for the purpose of employing another teacher. The villagers also exerted pressure on the Government for better infrastructure. As of 2004, the school has been expanded and can accommodate students up to 10th fund-raising tactic was later adopted by the State Government.
2. Youth Groups: Very strong support was also extended to this campaign by a volunteer youth group, which was established in 1996. The youth group organized study groups and cultural events, in addition to spreading awareness about MVF’s campaign.
3. Headmaster and Teachers: The youth group maintained good relations with the headmaster and the teachers, who grew increasingly supportive of MVF’s work. They began to take an active role in retention programs, often visiting absentee students at home to gauge the situation and find a solution.
Ravulapally Village has come a long way from its one-room school days and is a shining example of how the quality of life of children can be improved through MVF’s campaigns.
School Education Committees
A number of villages also have School Education Committees, who often grow inactive due to disuse. MVF helps to revive these committees and include them in their work to revitalize schools. SECs are officially responsible for lobbying the Government on needed improvements.
One such SEC in Basireddipally Village in Ranga Reddy District has played an incredibly significant role in promoting universalisation of education. By careful monitoring of the school, they discovered
the two main problems:
1. Irregular Attendance by Students: As children had grown to their carefree lifestyle, they were hesitant and, often, uninterested in attending school.
2. Irregular Attendance by Teachers: Two teachers who had been appointed to work in the village by the Government frequently absented themselves.
The SEC took an active role to resolve these issues. Firstly, they contacted the parents of the absentee students and educated them on the importance of regular attendance. Secondly, the teachers were officially reprimanded in a meeting.
The speedy action taken by the SEC as well as their frequent scrutiny of the schools has gone a long way in sustaining MVF’s campaigns. After all, the most difficult task is to ensure that child continue to receive quality education; the problem does not end upon enrolment.