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A dream, a call and some courage: How a 15-year-old stopped her marriage

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Purulia, Oct 24: A timely phone call to Childline by a 15-year-old girl from a remote village in West Bengal's Purulia district helped the teenager prevent her marriage.

Purnima Lohar (name changed) from Kashipur area, a member of a local 'Kanyashree' club that creates awareness on social evils, knew well that 18 years was the legal age for getting married.

A dream, a call and some courage: How a 15-year-old stopped her marriage

Lohar said she had also learnt about the ills of child marriage from Asha and UNICEF trainers during her frequent visits to an Anganwadi centre at Dobapara, 260 km from Kolkata.

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A few months ago, upon realising that she could soon be a victim, too, the girl had quickly dialled 1098 and informed Childline that her parents were forcibly marrying her off despite her wish to continue studies and become a nurse.

"As soon as I called Child Helpline, someone sought my name, address and other details. Administrative and police officials then visited my home and persuaded my parents not to marry me off as I was a minor," Lohar told PTI at an anganwadi centre in Kashipur.

Asked if parents were angry with her move, she said, "At first, they were upset, but after the officials explained to them why a minor girl shouldn't get married, they allowed me to continue my studies."

Lohar said she wanted to become a nurse and serve humanity. "My father lost his job during the COVID-induced lockdown and considered me a liability for the family. But now, he understands that a daughter is an asset," she said.

UNICEF Child Protection Officer Swapnodipa Biswas said the organisation has formed child protection committees at block and village levels in Kashipur, Jhalda and other parts of Purulia district to prevent child marriages.

Children are also being made aware about menstrual hygiene and reproductive and sexual health among other issues, she said. UNICEF is providing technical support to strengthen schemes such as the West Bengal government's flagship 'Kanyashree' to curb social evils such as child marriage.

It is also helping the district administration with the formation of 'Kanyashree' clubs to help reduce child marriage in 12 districts of West Bengal including Purulia. Kanyashree clubs are groups formed in schools and other institutions to generate awareness among girls about health and other issues pertaining to them. The girls then spread the same message in the neighbourhood.

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In the National Family Health Survey-4 (NFHS), conducted in 2015-16, it was found that the rate of child marriage in Purulia district stood at 43.7 per cent. It came down to 37 per cent in NFHS-5 (2019-21), Biswas noted.

It is because of these girl empowerment initiatives, many inform Child Helpline or the district administration or the police if their parents try to fix their marriage before they attain adulthood.

Hemant Pramanik, the joint block development officer of Jhalda-I in Purulia, said, "Upon receiving reports of a family trying to marry off a minor girl, administrative officials visit the household and dissuade the members from doing so." Another district official said that the administration prevented two child marriages during the COVID-induced lockdown.

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