Children stand up for their rights

Why does child marriage happen? What are the negative effects of child marriage? What laws protect children from marriage? How can children’s groups and the Child Protection Committee help them, especially when around 30% of all girls in India marry before the age of 18 years?

These are difficult questions to discuss, but it was exactly what was happening within a children’s group in the district of Haryana, India, the other day.

About 20 children belong to the children’s group in this (shikarpur) village and they meet at least once a month to discuss issues that are important for them. The purpose of the children’s group is to ensure that all the children go to school and to educate the community about children’s rights. Many children drop out of school during the cotton plucking season and many of them never finish their schooling. Children have the right to free and compulsory education and it is not legal to work before you are 14 years old, according to Indian law. The importance of education, child labour and child marriage are important topics in the children’s groups.

Children are discussing child marriage - by Paul Barendregt
Children are discussing child marriage – by Paul Barendregt

The children had a lot of knowledge about child marriage. They told us that the reason for child marriage often is poverty and that it is widely socially accepted. They said that teenagers are not physically and mentally mature enough to have the responsibility of being a wife or a husband. The girls said they would need to give up their dreams to look after the household responsibilities after marriage. They also knew that it is not legal to marry before the age of 18, if you are a girl, and 21, if you are a boy. They also knew that the local Child Protection Committee (CPC) was there to support them.

One of these children is 17 year old Puja. She shares her story with us. In May this year, she was informed by her parents that they had chosen a husband for her and that the wedding was planned to take place in August. Puja was thinking back and forth, if she wanted to get married or not, but just before the date of the marriage she realized that she didn’t want to. She took help from the local CPC and asked for their support and together they managed to stop the wedding. She didn’t want to marry because she wanted to continue with her studies. CPC told her that if she really wanted to support her family the best way was not to get married this early. Education on the other hand will lead to a good job and by that she can support her family for long term. What was Puja’s dream? To become a cricket player!

The children’s groups and the Child Protection Committee are doing fantastic work to increase the awareness of children’s rights in Punjab and Haryana in India. With support from Save the Children, Pratham and Breakthrough they have managed to enrol children back in school, helped them to catch up with their studies and prevented child labour and child marriages. Most of all, they are giving children better possibilities for the future.