How Children in Bengal's Bardhaman are becoming catalysts of change
National Girl Child Day is observed every year on January 24 to celebrate girl children and to bring the focus on issues like skewed sex ratio, female foeticide, child marriage, education, health and safety of the girl child, unequal treatment and gender disparities.
India has the highest number of child brides in the world. It is estimated that 27 per cent of girls in India are married before their 18th birthday. (UNICEF 2017).
A lot can be done to address issues of girl children through appropriate social interventions. Many a time community members and children can play a vital role in making a difference in the lives of girl children. An excellent example is that of NGO World Vision India's (WVI) children's clubs formed in the city of Bardhaman in West Bengal.
Through children's groups, WVI works with young girls to develop their leadership and mentoring skills as peer educators. In turn, these girls mentor children in their communities and raise awareness on child protection issues.
The first club HAPPY was formed in 2015 with a small group of children which was later divided to form six groups. Currently there are eight groups, with around 300 children as members. All clubs function individually comprising a president, secretary, treasurer and ministers for different departments such as sports, food, and child protection. They collect Rs 5 (for children 6 years and above) and Rs 10 (for children who are 14 years and above) to meet their group's expenses and to provide aid to children in need of assistance.
In April 2018, the groups came together to form a federation club which has 19 representatives, one each from 8 children's clubs. The members of the federation meet every month. Before intervening in any case, the children follow a process of consulting the members of Child Well-Being Committee (CWBC), another group formed by World Vision India, the police, and leaders in the community. The support of other members helps bring a more serious focus to the redressal of the cases.
Sixteen-year-old Pomi is a role model in her community - she had the courage to stand up against child marriage. She understood the value of education through children's groups. Pomi has been relentlessly working to raise awareness on child protection issues and importance of education which has helped to reduce child marriages in her community.
Pomi is the President of the Federation, a role she is proud of and eagerly shares about the work the children's clubs are doing. She says that they are tackling issues which the adults in the community couldn't.
"We've stopped two cases of child marriage so far. With the word spreading across town, many such marriages were cancelled on their own. We have also enrolled around 15 children in school and conducted a two-week long anti-drugs campaign. But our focus is to stop child marriages in the community," Pomi said.
In one of the cases, with the help of the local councillor, the club members got a refund for the hotel booking and stopped the printing of wedding cards. To ensure that the girl continues her studies, they funded her Class 11 fees from their own group's monthly contributions with further educational assistance from outside. Today, she studies in Class 12 and looks forward to fulfilling her dreams.
In recognition of their efforts, the club members were felicitated by the West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights with certificates of appreciation along with a cheque for Rs 10,000, which they plan to use for opening a library for children in the community. The award and recognition have inspired the children.
Pomi says: "I look forward to participating in the club activities as I get an opportunity to speak up and share ideas about issues concerning us. I also motivate my friends to open up."
From encouraging girls to defend their rights, stay in school and not get married too young, these little messiahs are becoming the catalysts of change.
(Neola D'Souza is Communications Associate, World Vision India)-IANS