Roytalukdar, a writer from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), wrote an article called “I have a dream”, that tackled India’s growing problem of child marriage. The National Family Health Survey found that 23.3 % of marriages from 2019 to 2021 involved an underaged bride and/or groom. To combat this, United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and UNFPA initiated their “Global Programme to End Child Marriage” in 12 countries, including India. This program aims to prevent children from early marriage, preserve their access to education, and protect their sexual health.
This article begins with the story of Sapna, a young girl in Rajasthan, India, who had been pulled out of school and engaged to a 30-year old man because her father could not repay a loan. Sapna's engagement was called off after she called the Naubat Baja Missed Called Radio helpline and spoke to Shreya, a volunteer.
The helpline was created by UNFPA and implemented by a local NGO focused on girls' empowerment called Jeevan Ashram Sansthan. Girls in Rajasthan that call in can speak to someone for approximately 15 minutes regardless of service connection. Callers are given up-to-date information on job opportunities, government initiatives, general knowledge, and even entertainment like the latest Hindi songs and comedy sketches. The program is not just aimed at reducing child marriage and preventing gender-based discrimination - it also to helps to educate youths about menstrual hygiene, mental health, and the latest COVID-19 updates. Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan (NYKS), a large network of youths that have been trained to open a line of communication with young girls, helps to increase local awareness of the information released by Naubat Baja.
Through the helpline, Shreya was able to get police to intervene on Sapna's behalf and send her to a shelter until it was safe for her to return to school.
UNICEF predicts in the next decade 100 million girls are at risk of child marriage. Child marriage rates have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, putting an additional 10 million children at risk of early marriage.
After declining for many years, the child marriage has increased during COVID-19 because it has pushed many families into poverty or economic precarity. Families that are struggling may decide to marry their children off to reduce the size of the household, particularly in regions where dowry payments may ease some of the financial strain. School closures, parental deaths, service disruptions, and pregnancies also contribute to the rise in child marriage rates.
Having organizations such as the Naubat Baja operating in areas such as Rajasthan, where gender inequality is high, is critical for the empowerment of underprivileged young girls. Partnerships between global and local organizations, like this one between the UNFPA and Jeevan Ashram Sansthan are crucial to protect girls from early marriage and domestic violence by increasing their ability to access health, security, and social protection.
Want to learn more? Click on the links provided below!
The link to the article -> UNFPA, 2022
For more information on the Naubat Baja, click here-> Naubat Baja Twitter