India has the largest number of child brides in the world and accounts for one third of the girls married before the age of 18 globally. Although fortunately child marriage is declining in India, still more than one fourth (27%) of the women aged 20-24 years report being married before the age of 18 years (UNICEF, 2017).
Structural inequalities and prevailing social norms are the root causes of young people being unable to decide if and when to get married and pursue their sexual and reproductive health rights.
Save the Children and Simavi work in selected districts in Bihar, Rajasthan, Odisha, and Jharkhand states where the practice of child marriage is widespread because of various social, economic, cultural and political factors. In these areas, the organizations work through local and national partners to reach the target audience and make the programmes as effective and efficient as possible.
As the research partner within the MTBA, the Population Council is evaluating the interventions . It assesses the impact using baseline, midline and endline surveys to measure the effect of the interventions on key outcomes such as early marriage, pregnancy and school enrolment rates. The Council takes a closer look at factors that influence early marriage in each setting such as migration, poverty, and social norms. Also, the Council partners with program staff to design mobile monitoring and evaluation tools that can deliver a pertinent flow of information to be used by implementers.
The MTBA together with its partners has established discussions groups for adolescent girls and boys in which boys and girls are given education on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and life skills ; they are educated by trained peers. The MTBA is furthermore raising awareness in communities on the importance of girls’ education and it is advocating for the safety and protection of girls in schools . In addition, school management, parents and teachers are supported to prevent girls from dropping out or being absent. For girls who dropped out of school, bridge courses are organised so they can return to school. Girls who are at risk of being married or who are already married are trained in financial and vocational/entrepreneurial skills, to make them more (financial) independent and to give them the opportunity to make their own decisions.
Through forming and training Child Protection Committees (CPCs) and Village Health Sanitation and Nutrition Committees (VHSNC), the program enables the members of those committees to play a strong role in addressing urgent issues on SRHR and the devastating effects of child marriage in their communities.
To enhance access of married and unmarried girls to the vital SRHR services, the program establishes and strengthens youth friendly health clinics, it trains health care providers on the dangers of child marriage, the importance of gender equality and counselling skills, and it establishes social accountability systems for SRH services.
The program is working to create a supportive environment to end child marriages by mobilizing all relevant stakeholders such as religious and community leaders and the local government. It does so through implementing a Social Behaviour Change Communication strategy, by raising awareness through media sensitization workshops and by facilitating public hearings on child marriage.
In India, the MTBA has joined forces with Agragami India, Centre for Health And Resource Management (CHARM), Shiv Shiksha Samiti Ranoli (SSSR), Centre for Community Economics & Development Consultants Society (CECOEDECON), Social Welfare Agency & Training Institute (SWATI), ASHA-Odisha, Child in Need Institute (CINI), Bihar Voluntary Health Association (BVHA), Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI) and Network for Enterprise Enhancement and Development Support (NEEDS).
Photocredits: Prabuddha Paul (VHAI)