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STOP Child Marriage

About the Organization
South Orissa Voluntary Action (SOVA) has been working in the tribal districts of Koraput, Rayagada, Nabarangapur and Malkangiri in southern Odisha, and has been dedicated to the development of the tribal and marginalised communities especially women and children. SOVA is committed to working towards strengthening child protection systems, ending child marriage, and preventing child labour, child trafficking, violence against children, child sexual abuse and promoting community-based care and protection mechanisms. We are focused on the implementation of key child protection legislation and the promotion of practices that protect children from violence, abuse and exploitation. Prevention is central to our strategy and our programming as it is the most effective way to deal with child sexual abuse and exploitation. We work with the government on a range of support services that provide healing to victims/survivors and their families including a focus on counselling, support for school continuation and social protection. SOVA with support of Kailash Satyarthy Children’s Foundation works to bring an end to issues of Child Marriage, Child Trafficking and Child Sexual Abuse in its operational area.

Child Marriage – Background
Child Marriage is not just an age-old social evil, but also a heinous crime that robs children of their childhood. Child marriage is a “crime against children” that violates basic human rights, minor girls are forced to marry and live a life of mental trauma, physical and biological stress, domestic violence including limited access to education and increased vulnerability to domestic violence. The consequences of child marriage are severe and extensive. Some of the specific consequences include: early pregnancies leading to complications and higher rate of maternal mortality and death of infants, malnutrition among both the infant and the mother, increased vulnerability to reproductive health, disruption in girl’s education and thereby reduction in opportunities of her personal and professional development, domestic violence and abuse, limited decision making powers in the household, and mental health issues.

India’s Census 2011 revealed 12 million children were married before attaining the legal age, of which 5.2 million were girls. Globally, child marriage is identified as a crime and a menace that needs to be eliminated. It finds space in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, under target 5.3 of Goal 5 that states elimination of all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation by 2025.

The latest National Family Health Survey (2019-21) shows that although there is a drop in the overall rate of child marriages, from 26.8% in the National Family Health Survey (NFHS 4) to 23.3% in NFHS-5, it is still high despite laws, programmes and schemes in place to address the issue.

In the district of Koraput and Nabarangpur, the issue of child marriage is much more and most of the time it is either under-reported or goes unnoticed knowingly or unknowingly. As per a report of ToI (16th Nov 2019)Koraput accounts for 34 per cent of total child marriages in the State and the illegal practice is not only prevalent among tribal communities of Kondh, Soura, Bhumiya, Bhotra, Durua and Gadava who reside in 14 blocks but among other communities in the districts. However, the same survey revealed that half of the 30 districts of Odisha had a child marriage prevalence rate of more than 20%. At 39.4%, Nabarangpur reported the highest child marriage incidents followed by Nayagarh (35.7%), Koraput (35.5%), Malkangiri (32.4%), Rayagada (33.2%) and Mayurbhanj (31.2%).

1. Child Marriage Free India Campaign
Understanding the seriousness of the issue, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in W.P. Civil 382 of 2013 pronounced that the sexual intercourse committed by the husband upon his wife being under the age of 18 years with or without her consent can be constituted as rape. To address this, the most definitive and audacious commitment to end child marriage was made with the launch of Child Marriage Free India campaign.

Child Marriage Free India (CMFI) is a nationwide campaign led by women leaders and a coalition of more than 160 NGOs spanning more than 300 districts working to eliminate child marriage in India. CMFI is working to attain the tipping point of child marriage, after which the society does not accept this evil practice and that will happen when the prevalence of child marriage is brought down to 5.5% by 2030, from the current national prevalence rate of 23.3%. This is being done by initially targeting 257 high-prevalence districts and gradually focusing on all the districts of the country.

Child marriage results in child rape, resulting in child pregnancy, and in a large number of cases, may lead to child deaths. For decades, we have been losing generations of our children to child marriage. The Child Marriage Free India campaign has received extended support from various Departments and Institutions of over 28 States. So far, across India more than 5 crore people have taken the pledge to end child marriage over the last one year through the efforts of the Child.

The Campaign Activities includes
Child Marriage Free India Campaign Event
The campaign event was conducted on 16th October in Koraput and Nabarangpur districts covering 300 villages. Awareness for school children was conducted in 209 schools where about 23,000 children were oriented through short films and messages. The major activities conducted during the process are:
Rallies were conducted by children on ‘No to Child Marriage’.
Signature campaign conducted in 209 schools
Candle rally by women leaders against child marriage
Mass pledge collection
Radio broadcasting and penal discussion on Child marriage free India

International Girl Child Day
District level campaign programme were organized at Nabarangpur and Koraput districts involving administration, government line departments, Zilla Parishad and Tribal councils. The major activities conducted during the process are:
Rallies by 155 adolescent girls on ‘Child Marriage Free India”
District level meetings and Planning with administration for collaborative effort to contain child marriage in the district.
Inauguration of book ‘When Children have Children’ amidst ADM, DCPO, CWC chairman and other block and District officials.
Awareness through puppet show in 8 panchayats.

Teachers Day
Realising the role of school teachers as a key player in containing child marriage in the district; block level campaigns were conducted in three blocks of Koraput and Nabarangpur involving education department officials and teachers. The major activities conducted during the process are:
Oath ceremony by teachers where 571 teachers sworn against child marriage
Mass pledge collection in schools and secondary colleges were conducted covering about 20,000 children.

Child Mrriage Free India Campaign on the occasion of Children’s Day
500 school children of Koraput and Nabarangpur celebrated children’s day on November 14th at Koraput locally named as ‘Ban Phul’ program. The major activities conducted during the occasion are:
Mass rally by 500 children with placards to end Child Marriage in the district
Poster competitions on ‘say no to child marriage’ where 235 children participated and coloured their vision for a child marriage free India.
21 teams from as many schools performed one act play on child marriage and were awarded for their wonderful performances.

Observation of Child Right Week Campaign
SOVA celebrated Child Right week from 14th to 20th November in 150 villages of Koraput and Nabarangpur to highlight the issue of child marriage in the districts. In this occasion, painting competitions were conducted in 150 schools where children expressed their thoughts through beautiful paintings.

Village level child club campaign on ‘No to Child Marriage’ was conducted that helped community members to think over the issues of children.
Awareness program in Secondary schools /colleges on ‘Child Marriage Free India’ were conducted and 758 children have volunteered to work as change agents on the cause of child marriage.

Media Coverage on Child Marriage Free India Campaign

Learn More
Child Marriage Free India Campaign

2. Tipping Point to End Child Marriage
Noted child rights activist, author, Supreme Court lawyer and founder of CMFI campaign, Bhuwan Ribhu has authored a book – ‘When Children Have Children: Tipping Point to End Child Marriage’ and put forth a framework advocating a sustainable, holistic and focused strategy with time-bound targets and measurable indicators to make India child marriage free by 2030. This book shows the path to eliminating child marriage in India within the next decade. As suggested by the author in the book, by adopting a systematic, highly focused, and intensive intervention model, over a phased timeline it is possible to reduce the national child marriage prevalence levels to 5.5% —the threshold, the tipping point, beyond which the prevalence is anticipated to diminish organically with reduced reliance on targeted interventions.

Tipping Point Methodology
The aim of reduction of 60% of child marriage (in each of the phases) is assumed to bring down the incidence of child marriage to 5.5% in the next 9 nine years from 2021, from the last available estimates i.e., NFHS-5, till 2030. An additional assumption is that such a focused and elaborate intervention against child marriage would have a ripple effect. The tipping point analysis has been divided into two phases. The first phase will extend over a period of six years, starting in 2021. Subsequently, the second phase will span over a three-year period. It is expected that the national average for child marriage prevalence (percentage women aged 20-24 who were married before 18 years) would decline from 23.3% to 13.7% if the prevalence of child marriage is reduced by 60% in the 257 high-prevalence districts in the first phase followed by a further reduction of 60% in all districts across the country.

In order to reach the Tipping Point, the author has proposed a strategy at national and district level.
a. National Level Strategy where Governments, Institutions, statutory bodies, etc. work towards prevention, protection, increased investment, improved prosecution, convergence and use of technology for monitoring

b. District Level Strategy is similar to national level strategy but includes district administration, Panchayats, civil society, NGOs, other functionaries, parents and children who work collectively to prevent, report, and take action against child marriage

3. The Unforeseen Intervention
Case Study: Anjani, (14 years), 9th grade Student, Jhad Semla Village

Anjani (Name Changed) is just 14-year old and studying in 9th standard in her village school. She lives with her parents and three siblings in Jhad Semla, Nabarangpur. On her way to school, she came across a boy named Pravas (Name Changed) who was from the neighbouring village. Both of them got attracted to each other and fell in love after a few days of interaction. Being teenagers, they decided to elope without much thought and subsequently, executed their plan on 27th September. The very next day, a community social worker of SOVA-KSCF Project, came to know about the matter through an anonymous person who attended one of his awareness campaigns on child marriage. He immediately contacted the District Coordinator, and Counselor, of SOVA-KSCF Project. The team reached out to Sarpanch, Kumari Majhi, and Anganwadi Worker, Budai Bhatra, and requested their intervention. Together they visited the boy’s house on 29th September. His parents were educated about their responsibilities as guardian and legal consequences if they support the marriage of the duo in any manner. However, it was little challenging to make Anjani and Pravas understand the impact of their decision as they were resolute in their desire to get married. After thorough counselling, they could prioritize what is best for them.

The boy’s parents, thereafter, signed an undertaking that they would not solemnize the marriage until Pravas attains the legal permissible age. Anjini was brought back to home the same day. Due to societal stigma associated with runaway girl, her parents were not willing to accept her rather insisted that she should be sent back to the boy. The Sarpanch, the Anganwadi Worker and SOVA-KSCF team asked them to change their perception toward early marriage of their adolescent girl and instead support her studies so she could become empowered in the future. They were also explained in detail about the legal consequences in case they solemnize her marriage before she turns eighteen years. They realized the seriousness of the problem of child marriage and significance of the Act to restrain the same. Finally, they gave an undertaking that they would marry off their daughter only after she becomes legally eligible. Thus, timely intervention saved two minors on the brink of getting married. It set a good example for other adolescents and parents as well and left a lasting positive impression in the neighbourhood.

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