In India, over a quarter of all girls are married as children. As a sprawling country with a huge population, it has the highest absolute numbers of girls married before they turn 18 – over 15 million in total.
Girls Not Brides member organisation Pratigya – named for the Hindi word for “pledge” – has been working for 14 years in the eastern state of Jharkhand. The region is famous for its scenic beauty with the capital city Ranchi popularly referred to as “the city of waterfalls”.
Despite living in a beautiful setting, girls and their families in Jharkhand face difficult circumstances and barriers to their rights and freedom as a result of poverty and lack of opportunity.
“We work in two main parts of the state with tribal communities and families living in the slum areas,” Ajay Kumar, Secretary and Co-Founder of Pratigya, tells us. “They face many problems, including child marriage, that can relate to many different difficulties. We work closely with the community to resolve them depending on the different contexts.”
Our aim is to bring everyone together...and align them with a single message – that child marriage must end.
Pratigya is a grassroots organisation that focuses on child rights and empowering children to lead. The organisation launched their Power to Girls campaign, working to end child marriage, back in August 2021 with support from the Girls Not Brides secretariat to carry out their campaign at a national level.
“This campaign has given us an opportunity to create momentum against the practice,” Ajay says. “Our aim is to bring influencers, like government officials, educators, doctors, faith leaders, parents…everyone together! And align them with a single message – that child marriage must end.”
Ajay and the Pratigya team are working with communities, young people and influencers to achieve their aims. He tells us that the campaign “will be sustained when everyone in the community recognises themselves as a leader in the movement to end child marriage.”
One of the most potent methods that Pratigya have used to get their campaign message across is to partner with government officials to reach as many people as possible.
“When we started working with government officials on this campaign, we found that most departments didn’t have child marriage as an agenda in their frameworks.
“Government infrastructure and resources are available in every village throughout the state. We can use these channels to reach everyone, even people in the most remote villages. This helps us to create a deeper impact with communities.”
Working closely with the government facilitates our work at the community level.
So far in their ongoing campaign, Pratigya have gathered over 4,000 pledges supporting an end to child marriage, including support from Ministers and government representatives, and people in the community themselves.
“Working closely with the government facilitates our work at the community level. We can’t end child marriage without engaging young people, and most of the ideas for our campaign came from young people who’ve graduated into higher education after being part of Pratigya’s Life Skills Programme as children.”
Ajay and Pratigya strongly believe that supporting children and young people to be changemakers is the key to ending child marriage.
“One of the biggest problems we face is communicating with teenagers on the issue of child marriage.”
Young people are energised and keen to work towards social issues...If we share information with them properly they can have a major impact in society.
In Jharkhand there is a customary practice called “Dhuku” marriage, in which a girl and boy enter into an informal “live-in” practice. Ajay warned that, in most cases, this custom leads to early pregnancy and child marriage.
“When we engage our children and youth in our programmes, they can act as major amplifiers of the campaign message. Young people are energised and keen to work towards social issues. They can act as a sensitising agent for their family and the community. If we share information with them properly they can have a major impact in society.”
The organisation has reached far and wide with the campaign already, and they plan to continue working hand-in-hand with young people, parents, communities and with government officials to get their message out there.
We can all play a significant role in ending this practice...I know that the end of child marriage is possible.
“We’ve met with the State Minister for Department of Women, Child Development and Social Security where she has committed to bring out a large programme with officials all over the state to be appraised on the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act. This Act should not only be on paper, it should be in action, and we’ll be following up on this promise.”
Ajay adds that “Pratigya has always considered every child as important. We can all play a significant role in ending this practice. With the involvement of every government department, every influencer, community, parent and young person – I know that the end of child marriage is possible.”
In the time it has taken to read this article 50 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 2 seconds