Say no to gauna, Ladli Samman campaigners tell under-aged brides
Empowered women are roped in to spread awareness against child marriage and identify under-aged brides to pursue them to resist going to their husband’s house until they turn 18jaipur Updated: Nov 22, 2016 21:02 IST
As the applause dies down, 23-year-old Sona Bairwa rises to relate her tale of defiance and woes to girls in a government secondary school at a Rajasthan village to encourage them to stand up against the scourge of child marriage plaguing the state.
The fourth among eight siblings, she was married off at the tender age of six. But she wanted to study and chart her own future. So she delayed gauna, a ritual of sending child brides to their husband’s house when they are grown up, until July this year.
After completing her graduation Sona aspires to become a teacher. But in July this year when she went to her spouse’s residence, to her horror, she found that her alcoholic husband was oppose to her career objective.
After spending a little more than two months with her abusive husband, she returned to her parents.
“Look at me. I was married off early and see the consequences. If you are already married, say no to gauna until you are 18,” she tells her engrossed audience at the school in Sohalya gram panchayat.
“Be bold and stop child marriage,” Sona exhorted the schoolgirls who were listening to her in rapt attention. She told them she did not let any of her three younger sisters to get married during their childhood.
Sona was not alone in this fight against the social evil. 18-year-old Forenta Bairwa is another empowered woman Ladli Samman (Honour to the girl child) campaign has engaged to spread awareness against child marriage and identify under-aged brides to pursue them to resist gauna until they turn 18.
Presently the campaign is on in 120 gram panchayats in Tonk, Todaraisingh, Deoli and Uniara blocks under Tonk district.
It uses empowered women such as Sona and Forenta to send home the message. The campaign, which began on September 20 and will end on November 30, has identified 487 child brides who will soon be sent off to their husbands if they don’t object.
In 2015, the campaign prevented 804 gaunas, while in 2014, the number was 3,704.
“I was in Class 8 when my parents got me engaged along with my elder sister, Meera. But I broke the engagement. I wanted to study,” Bairwa tells the girls.
Her two elder sisters-- Santara and Sumitra-- too got married during their childhood. But Forenta stood up for herself and her younger sister, Pooja, who is now in Class 10.
Forenta is now a first year student of a BA course at the Girls Degree College, Tonk.
A recent Unicef data shows that one in six Indian girls begins childbearing between the ages of 15 and 19. Early pregnancy increases the risk of delivery complications and maternal and child mortality. The infant mortality rate among children born to mothers below 20 years is 76%, compared to 50% for children whose mothers are aged 20-29 years.
Child marriage is widespread across India, with nearly half of brides are under aged. In Rajasthan, child marriages are prevailing for centuries. According to the annual health survey for 2012-13, 51.2% women aged 20-25 were married off before the permissible age of 18.
In the Sohalya school, 180km from Jaipur, Sona and Forenta identify 50 child brides after addressing the girls.
Campaign’s convener Vipin Tiwari says, “Prevention is the best strategy but for girls who have already been married off, the awareness drive against consummating it before they turn 18 really helps.”