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There’s A Reason Why Child Marriages Increase In Wake Of Disasters

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The impact of the COVID pandemic continues to be felt around the world as governments continue to respond to COVID and its economic effects. There is a dire need to address the social disruption that the pandemic has caused, for example, the sharp increase in child marriage. In many countries, when a crisis hits, early and child marriage increases exponentially.

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According to UNICEF, child marriage is defined as any formal marriage or informal union between a child under the age of 18 with an adult or another child. The decision for marriage gets shaped by a web of factors, including poverty, access to education, harassment, and power play which makes early marriage a means of survival necessary to maintain or secure basic rights such as food and education.

Child marriage is valued as an economic coping strategy in two ways: in the exchange of a dowry or relief of the financial burden of having fewer children, primarily the daughter. Dowry or bride price – a payment of cash or goods often made to a bride’s family by the groom’s family – can also provide a desperately needed infusion of cash during hard times.

Child marriage is usually recognized as a necessity for controlling a girls’ sexuality. Various cultural notions of a girl’s virginity and chastity are directly linked to the honour and status of a family. Indeed, girls are perceived as incapable of protecting themselves.

Girls in rural communities are withdrawn from school when they start menstruating to restrict their movements in order to protect their sexuality. Due to improper implementation of the law and increasing crimes against women even during the lockdowns, safety concerns have been the primary reason for increasing child marriage.

Families feel marrying off an underage daughter during a disaster can mean there is one less mouth to feed, or parents may believe that it will protect girls from the increased risk of sexual exploitation because a man can protect their daughters. But child marriage comes with multiple health risks. This is because young brides have limited access to and knowledge of contraception. The majority are exposed to sexual relations leading to repeated pregnancies before they are physically and mentally ready.

Boys forced into marriage also suffer financially. Economic responsibility places a burden on them and may lead to restricting their education. However, while men can leave their wives and seek employment opportunities elsewhere, this option is not open to the majority of women.

Poverty and the lack of economic opportunities for girls in rural areas underpin the decision of child marriage. Girls are either seen as an economic burden or valued as capital for their exchange value in terms of goods, money, or livestock. Various reports indicate that girls are being forced into trading sex for food or money.

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The U.N. Population Fund estimates that there will be 13 million additional early and child marriages over the next decade due to the pandemic. According to a 2019 report published by the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF), India has the largest number of child brides in the world.

Education plays a significant role in preventing child marriages. But, the higher cost of education means that parents choose to stop girls’ education. This is because most people fail to see the economic rationale for investing in their daughter’s education. There are beliefs that girls’ education will adversely influence their future roles as wives and mothers, paving the way to justifying child marriages.

The Pandemic-related school closures are also driving the practice of early child marriage. The organizations that worked with the schools to prevent families from practising child marriage cannot access the vulnerable populations.

Public schools providing food services like the Mid-Day Meal programs to students were the sole source of food for many families. The provision of meals at schools put less burden on the parents to provide for children and even paved the way for the girl child to attain education. But with the closure of schools and increasing burden on parents, many have resorted to child marriage.

Though some schools are providing online schooling, the majority of low-income families have not been able to afford the technology needed to access these resources. India’s stark gender digital divide by the 2020 GSMA Mobile, Gender Gap report noted that women are 20% less likely to use mobile internet than men.

Child marriage remains an ignored violation of the health and development rights of a child. This is because of the official tolerance of cultural, societal, and customary norms that shape and govern the institution of marriage and family life. It is a socially licensed sexual abuse and exploitation of a child.

For example, in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, minor girls in Indonesia and Sri Lanka were reportedly forced into marriage with tsunami widowers. They were given state subsidies for marrying and starting a family. During this period, the closure of schools and a lack of protection for girls created an environment for child marriage and sex transactions between young girls and older men as a means of economic survival for families.

The resultant closure of schools, reverse migration, and lack of financial security has pushed many into poverty. There is a direct link between poverty and child marriage. Poor parents try to make the best possible choices to improve wellbeing within their households, but they have few alternatives they can afford for the girls in the family. The reality is that men make more money, and investing in them could bring life-saving returns. They often view marriage to ensure their daughter’s financial security and reduce the economic burden of a grown adult on the family.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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