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One Step Forward

15-year-old Pramila Munda, who is trained as a peer educator, says her dramatic transformation is thanks to the lessons learned in the Sambhav programme – an adolescent empowerment programme in Jharkhand. Pramila leads an adolescent group for girls in Gauchandrapur village of Baharagora block in the East Singhbhum district. This is one of the 1614 adolescent groups in the district supported by UNICEF and the Government of Jharkhand in collaboration with local NGOs under the Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK) national scheme.

The 15 year-old girl, who belongs to a tribal community, recalls, “My parents did not allow me to speak with others, especially with boys. They also wished to marry me off at 14 years. As a trained peer educator, now I can raise my voice against all these. Hats off to Sambhav!”  According to feedback given by adolescents, many parents of daughters in the tribal community believe that girls get spoiled and involved in relationships if they socialize with boys and make friends.

In Jharkhand, as in several other states, girls are likely to get married at the age of 15-16 years. At the age of 14 years, Pramila’s parents decided to get her married as they had found a ‘suitable’ groom for her. Before working as a peer educator, Pramila hesitated to share or talk to her parents about anything concerning her life; however, through the caring support network of peers and mentors, she has developed self-confidence and is more secure and feels comfortable to talk to her parents about issues she is facing. She managed to convince her parents to allow her to complete her education first. “Child marriage exists in the village. But now we have an improved understanding and we talk to our parents about the problems it causes. Over the last two years, we’ve also helped to prevent child marriages,” the girl adds with obvious delight. She aspires to become a police officer and become a role model to other girls in the society.

Last year, when Pramila discovered that a neighbor was arranging the marriage of his 13-year-old daughter, Sangita, to a groom, who was above 24 years in age, she alerted other members of the adolescent group and decided to convince the girl’s parents to delay the marriage. At the time, Pramila was associated with the Sambhav programme where she had learnt about the ill-effects of child marriage. Pramila and her friends visited Sangita’s house, where the groom and his family had come to discuss the marriage. Sangita’s parents discouraged Pramila from going in front of the groom, fearing that the groom’s family may think of her as prettier than the bride and would choose her for marriage instead of Sangita. When Pramila asked Sangita if she was interested in getting married, Sangita responded that she was not sure and that if the groom liked her and if her parents insisted, she would get married as she had no other choice. Pramila and the other members of the group counselled the girl and her parents saying that, “13 years is not the right age for marriage. Early marriage is a root cause of many problems. Marrying early will stop Sangita’s schooling which is necessary for her personal development. Post marriage, she would move to her husband’s house where she will take care of the household and family responsibilities. She could also be at risk for early pregnancy.” Pramila also questioned the groom asking him what he does for a living and why he wants to marry an underage girl. Pramila was heavily criticized by the villagers present and the groom and his family.

Despite earnest efforts, Sangita’s parents refused to listen. Pramila was dejected and became restless as the wedding day drew closer. “I don’t understand why girls are considered as burdens to their families. This is not right, it must change,” she says. Pramila and her group then informed the Panchayat head (village council) who managed to convince Sangita’s parents to stop the marriage.

Pramila has received training as a peer educator to run sessions on life skills, rights and entitlements, adolescent sexual and reproductive health, menstrual hygiene and management etc under the Sambhav programme. The aim is to empower the most marginalized adolescent girls to make informed choices, especially those who are at risk of child marriage or are already married. With 15 days of games and activities interspersed with knowledge on various issues, the young woman learnt how to motivate and instruct girls in her own village. There she runs hour-long meetings twice a month, passing on this knowledge and encouraging their dreams.

“Each workshop, each activity in which we par­ticipate as young women, is an opportunity for personal growth and for helping to make people recognize the leadership of young women.” Through engaged discussion and exposure to new ways of thinking, the Pramila and her girl group work on increasing their self-awareness and developing the confidence to stand up to nega­tive influences.

 

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