West Bengal Govt, UNICEF’s Joint Effort to End Child Marriage Gains Momentum

West Bengal government and UNICEF have unveiled tools to give impetus to their joint programme focusing on ending child marriage, gender inequality and gender-based violence on the occasion of International Women’s Day.

West Bengal State Rural Livelihood Mission (WBSRLM), under the aegis of the ‘Anandadhara’ project, has engaged Self-Help Groups (SHG) since September last year to form child-friendly sanghas (clusters) with a view to end child marriage and other deprivations meted out on the children in the state.

Speaking at an event on Friday, Vibhu Goel, CEO of WBSRLM, said various state government departments and UNICEF have been working together to finish these malpractices forever.

“Without community participation, it is difficult to make a headway. Promotion of better practices by SHG members, their families and their extended families and introduction of a community-based monitoring system are key to achieve success in child protection and child development issues,” an official release quoted him saying.

Under the umbrella of the key rural livelihood mission ‘Anandhadhara’, West Bengal is among the leading states in the country, with over 10.45 lakh SHGs. “We are also focusing on instilling a mechanism of self-belief among the women so that child marriage and other social malpractices are rooted out,” he said.

Laying stress on the monitoring process, he said, “If the process is not monitored then where and what steps should be taken to achieve success would remain untraced.”

The tools to track the milestones of the project, including prevention of child marriage, child trafficking, and identifying teenage pregnancies, would be sent to the sanghas in the next two weeks.

National Family Health Survey Report-V shows that nearly 48 per cent of rural girls are married off underage in the state.

In recent times, especially after the COVID pandemic outbreak, child marriage incidents have increased in all districts of the state. To prevent child marriage and proactively protect child rights, the program will be expanded to 110 clusters or “sanghas” in the upcoming fiscal year.

“Regular discussions at all levels on a specified social issue for awareness, self-monitoring by SHGs and tracking of status of the girl children in their locality are being planned to be implemented with the help of charts, visuals and other audio-visual methods as part of these tools,” the CEO informed.

Adolescent Girls’ Tracker

WBSRLM, in collaboration with UNICEF, has developed the adolescent girls’ tracker, SHG discussion points, thematic messages and posters to promote empowerment and gauge the progress of the initiative.

Chief of UNICEF in West Bengal, Mohammad Mohiuddin, said, “Once we implement the tools at the community level, these trackers and documents will have a great change in the society to prevent these social evils. The initiative will help to create a protective environment for the children, adolescent girls and women and address practices like child marriage and gender-based violence in the society.”

He mentioned that the state government was urged to engage the Self Help Groups (SHGs) in the program because their members have the benefit of being known and recognised in the community, allowing them to take preventative measures and facilitate a response to prevent such practices.

The initiative is expected to gather momentum with increasing support from community members, including men. UNICEF has also been conducting school-level programs to raise awareness on gender equality among young adults.

According to the National Family Health Survey-4 (NFHS) conducted during 2015-16, the child marriage rate in Bengal’s Purulia district was recorded at 43.7 per cent. However, in the latest NFHS-5 (2019-21), the child marriage rate decreased to 37 per cent.

A demographic sample survey by the Union Home Ministry published in October 2022 revealed around 54.9 per cent of girls are married in West Bengal before attaining the age of 21 years.

UNICEF is providing technical support to strengthen schemes such as the West Bengal government’s flagship ‘Kanyashree’ to curb social evils such as child marriage.

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