End Child Marriage: Odisha’s Adolescent Girl Champions Share Their Stories With International Donors

Bhubaneswar: Adolescent girls from different districts of Odisha shared their stories of courage and determination with a team of international representatives.

The 20 girls, who interacted with the visitors, spoke about their journey as champions to End Child Marriage in Odisha.

The team comprised Isabelle Solon Helal, Deputy Director, Global Affairs Canada; Ali Hendy, Child Protection and Child Marriage Lead, UK (FCDO); Ritika Dhall, Assistant Director, Gender Equality, Norad; Beate Gabrielsen, Head of Political Section, Norway; Mieke Vogels, Senior Policy Advisor SRHR, Netherlands Embassy; Ute Scholz, President, Zonta International. Senior representatives of UNICEF and UNFPA, part of the steering committee of Global Programme to End Child Marriage (GPECM), were part of the interaction.

The Global Programme promotes rights of adolescent girls to avert child/early/forced marriage and pregnancy, and enables them to achieve their aspirations through education and alternative paths.

Many of the adolescent girls talked about how they resisted family pressure to get married at an early age.

“My parents wanted to me to get married when I was 15 years old. I was scared of the consequences if I refused. But I spoke to Anganwadi didi and together with district administration officials, they convinced my parent not to go ahead with the marriage. They helped me enrol in the Industrial Training Institute where I learnt tailoring. Today I earn Rs 8,000 a month and proudly support my family,” said Malati Pujari from Nabarangpur.

Kandhamal’s 16-year-old Suprava Subhadarshini Behera is training to be an electrician. Her marriage was fixed in July this year when she also reached out to Anganwadi worker who helped her avoid marriage.

Both girls, along with many others in the state, have been benefitting from the Advika initiative that teaches life skills to adolescents through weekly meetings at Anganwadi centres.

They asked the foreign visitors about issues like gender inequality and minimum age of marriage in Western countries, and importance of education.

“While education is important, a person can learn through experiences as well,” said Isabelle Solon.

She suggested that children can volunteer with their communities, take up a sport, learn a new craft and add dimensions to their education which need not be through schools and colleges only.

Ritika Dhall said gender inequality is often hidden.

“We need to work around the world to ensure equality is understood and practiced,” she said.

The Global Programme to End Child Marriage, which was launched in 2016, covers 12 countries. India apart, it operates in Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique, Nepal, Niger, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Yemen and Zambia.

UNICEF and UNFPA, with support from GPECM, work across all 30 districts of Odisha to promote life skills for adolescents, improve overall well-being including sexual and reproductive health and build more capacity within the government systems to prevent child marriage and build linkages to skilling and livelihood opportunities.

The programme also promotes positive behaviour changes and social norms to empower girls and provide equal opportunities to girls and boys.

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