Sapna Kumari, Dumka, Jharkhand
‘We have the right to decide who we want to have a sexual relationship with and when. We have the right to decide when we want to marry, when we want to have children’
Fifteen year old Sapna Kumari, smiles easily. She has a sense of quiet confidence. She lives in Dumka, Jharkhand, India with her parents, two younger brothers, her grandmother and her uncle and aunt. Her father often leaves for long stretches for work. She can easily recall the first time she met someone from the More than Brides Alliance project team. “Vikas Bhalya (project team member) had come to our home. He had talked about a meeting at the Panchayat Bhawan. He asked if I could come for the meeting and that it was for adolescent girls,” she shares. She is glad she went for that meeting. I have learnt so much since then” she states.
That first meeting in the summer of 2017 had drawn 10-12 adolescent girls. “We were not sure what it was about. They said they will tell us about our rights. We knew adults had rights. I had never heard of children having rights and I found it very interesting,” Gradually, as the project activities unfolded, Sapna began to have a clearer idea of what was being attempted. “A Learning centre was opened. Ten girls from here who had not been able to continue their schooling joined. We were asked to form a group, come for meetings and discuss many things” she recalls.
Sapna found these discussions engrossing. “We discussed about our rights like participation and development. And we talked about how girls should be protected in their homes and schools”. She also heard about sexual and reproductive rights for the first time. “We have the right to information and services about sexual and reproductive health. We have the right to decide who we want to have a sexual relationship with and when. We have the right to decide when we want to marry, when we want to have children,” she says.
“I also came to know a lot about gender, menstruation and our health, HIV and AIDS, dangers of childmarriage, family planning…that there are adults that we can talk to if we have any problems,”
Her association with the project also led to two things that she is particularly proud of.” I like being a peer educator. I felt very good when I was chosen. I like talking to other girls about all that I learn in my training,” she states. She also enjoyed her engagement in street plays. “I played the role
of a father who is a farmer. It was a play on child marriage”. The play was performed at multiple locations. “Now, when I cross Belkupi (a neighbouring area), they say-there is that girl who played the role of the father. They all recognise me,” she says with a smile. Does this recognition make her uncomfortable? “No. It is for a good thing. We need to talk about child marriage” she replies instantly.
While she hopes to become a teacher, Sapna wants girls to be aware of options for ensuring their financial security. “Girls should have something to fall back on, something through which they can earn. It could be anything – making agarbatt i • or papad or anything,” she states. She is happy to know that the project includes a vocational training component that will be operationalised soon. “We girls should think more about our lives and future,” she states.