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11 Photos That Show How Young Girls Are Fighting Against Early Marriage In The Simplest Ways Possible

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13 year old Seema accompanies her mother, Rani, who works as a domestic help for many families. Seema used to live in one such home as a full time domestic help, till she attained puberty. Now her mother refrains from letting her stay at another place overnight. Neither Seema, nor her younger sister Choti, is enrolled in any school. Rani doesn’t feel the need to educate her daughters, and wants to get them married off as early as possible. She split from her husband and is a single mother. She started looking for suitable grooms for Seema about three months back. Seema is soon to marry Mukesh, who is 18.

Early marriage is one of the biggest socio-economic problems in our country today. India ranks number one in the number of child brides in the world, with figures touching as high as 10,000,000. A lot of times, such wedlocks are arranged without even informing the girl, let alone with her consent. Young girls are pulled out of school, separated from their peers and siblings, and married off to strangers, who are often, much older.

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They are very likely to be victims of domestic violence and there are many repercussions on their health as well, due to early sexual activity and pregnancy. Moreover, due to lack of sex education and little or no access to contraceptives, these young girls have many pregnancies, some of which might even lead to miscarriages. Their sexual and reproductive health faces a major setback, and there are chances that their psychological health does too.

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The broad picture, painted by several surveys conducted by the United Nations and other non-governmental organization, highlights three very important demographic factors pertaining to early marriages:
● Girls from rural areas are twice as much likely to get married as children when compared to girls from urban areas.
● Child brides are most likely to be from poor households.
● Young married girls are generally less educated, either due to lack of resources and opportunity or due to curtailment of their education due to early marriage.

If we observe these factors carefully, it becomes obvious as to why early marriage as a problem is taking so long to be solved in India, despite efforts by the government and non-governmental organizations.

833.5 million people live in rural areas, as per Census 2011, which is more than two-third of the total population, while 377.1 million persons live in urban areas. In addition to it, more than 20% of the country’s population is below the poverty line, i.e. they don’t have enough resources to manage two square meals a day. Moreover, while the male literacy rate stands at 80.9 per cent – which is 5.6 per cent more than the previous census, the female literacy rate stands at 64.6 per cent – an increase of 10.9 per cent than 2001. (Source)

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These statistics imply that the current situation of early marriages in India, especially that of women, shouldn’t come as a surprise. Due to lack of qualitative support from the government in the education sector, and corruption plaguing the Public Distribution System, many families come under the intersecting domain of the uneducated and the impoverished. Moreover, they tend to marry off their daughters early since they are considered to be a ‘liability’ and incapable of contributing to the family income. Early marriages of girls are also prevalent because a lot of value is placed upon the daughter being a ‘virgin’ before marriage; hence, many families tend to marry them off as soon as they hit puberty.

Breakthrough’s initiative to end early marriages in India is a multi-fold program. These images are a testimony to their action programs in Bihar and Jharkhand:

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Education serves as a deterrent to early marriages. Families with access to cheap and quality education are more likely to send their kids to school; thus increasing their prospects of employability in the long run. This would also provide for more human resources in the country. Breakthrough’s program incorporates awareness about early marriage in the classroom teaching. Relevant texts help reaching out to young students about the repercussions of early marriage, in the form of interactive classroom sessions.

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Thrashing the stereotypes of fragile girls, who stay indoors and take care of the household work, this initiative encourages young girls to take up sports seriously by engaging them in different competitions. This provides for a much needed incentive to attend school, in the form of extracurricular activities, and leads to consistent attendance.

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In Bihar and Jharkhand, crowd sourcing volunteers and members, instead of having outsiders educate the masses about the repercussions of early marriage, has led to a massive awareness campaign. This image shows a ‘Self Help Group’ devising an action plan against early marriage. Such initiatives work at the grassroots and provide for the much needed efforts to curb this social menace.

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Tabu managed to convince her own father to invest in her and her sister's education and not get them married off before they are the legal age and also financially independent.
Tabu managed to convince her own father to invest in her and her sister’s education and not get them married off before they are the legal age and also financially independent.

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They aim at bringing about a domestic revolution reaching out to women, girls and even the male members of the household, to change their perspective towards the girl child, her education and also marriage. Families are made aware of the fact that a girl child is no less competent than her male counterparts, they are not a liability to be gotten rid off as soon as they hit puberty. They should be educated so that they grow up to be competent, independent and responsible citizens and members of the society.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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