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‘Dangerous burden’: Lok Sabha speaker speaks out against child marriage at Kumbh summit

The summit was organized under the joint auspices of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA) and Parmarth Niketan, with technical support from the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) and UNICEF.

india Updated: Jan 28, 2019 22:55 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
Hindustan Times, Prayagraj/Lucknow
Kumbh Mela,Lok Sabha Speaker,Sumitra Mahajan
Lok SabhaSpeaker Sumitra Mahajan on Monday described child marriage as a ‘dangerous burden’ for girls that inhibits their development while participating at a summit on women issues in the Kumbha Mela area (File Photo)(PTI)

Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan on Monday described child marriage as a dangerous burden for girls.

“A girl who is not physically or mentally ready, is not mature and does not understand the world must not be burdened with marriage,” she said on the second day of a three-day meet “She is the Solution: Summit of Grace” at the Parmarth Niketan Camp in the Kumbh Mela area.

The main focus should be on ensuring proper nutrition, education and sanitation for women and girls, she added.

“Our ‘Shakti’ doesn’t need empowerment from someone else, they need to recognise that they themselves are the power,” Mahajan said.

The summit was organized under the joint auspices of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA) and Parmarth Niketan, with technical support from the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) and UNICEF.

Uttar Pradesh’s women and child development minister Rita Bahuguna Joshi urged women and girls across the state to seize the initiative.

“Women and girl must take pride in themselves. Only then will society change,” she said.

Union minister of state for human resource development Satyapal Singh lauded GIWA for raising the issue of child marriage through faith leaders who are spiritual guides to millions.

“Women empowerment is the amrit (nectar) that will cleanse our society of ills such as child marriage and gender inequality,” he said.

Over 500 faith leaders and followers of various religions came together at the summit, calling for an end to gender discrimination and child marriage.

Swami Chidanand Saraswati, president of Parmarth Niketan and co-founder of GIWA, said, “This is a very historic coming together. We are at the Sangam to address issues troubling our world. Today, we are here to break our silence and to stand together against child marriage and say yes to education and sanitation of the girl child.”

Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, secretary general of GIWA, said, “Our women and girls need to be free from violence, inequality, stolen childhoods and lack of sanitation.

“The power of faith changes how people think and how people act,” she said.

During the summit, 10 women Kumbh Mela sanitation workers were honoured with sarees and 15 community champions were felicitated with certificates and a shawl.

Sue Coates, deputy executive director, WSSCC, said: “I don’t wear the robes of the distinguished women and men around the table. I know in my heart the movement cannot be stopped. No matter how you arrive at the Kumbh, you see children along the road, and often a little girl. Until we reach into the heart of that little girl, then she can’t take responsibility for her life.”

During the summit, a signature campaign will be launched to bring hundreds of thousands of Kumbh visitors on board the fight to end child marriage, with a view to set a world record in the process.

UP has made significant improvements in reducing child marriage over the past decade.

“No other state in India has reduced child marriage faster than UP,” said Javier Aguilar, chief, Child Protection, at UNICEF India. Between 2005-06 and 2015-16, the incidence of child marriage in UP reduced from 59% to 21.2%, while the national average dropped from 47% to 26.8% over the same period.

However, with one in every five girls in UP married before 18, child marriage continues to affect hundreds of thousands of children in the state. Twenty districts in UP have a higher incidence of child marriage than the national average of 27%. Shrawasti, a district in UP’s Terai region has the highest incidence of child marriage in the country, at 68.5%.

First Published: Jan 28, 2019 22:55 IST