Although child marriage is outlawed in India, the custom is still widespread in several regions across the country, including in Bihar. According to the National Family Health Survey (2015-2016), 45% of adolescent girls in rural Bihar are forced to marry before the age of 18 – the highest rate of child marriage in India. The Hunger Project-India works in five districts in Bihar, where high rates of child marriage occur: Jamui, West Champaran, Rohtas, Sheohar and Muzaffarpur.
The Hunger Project-India’s work in Bihar and the entire country focuses on empowering women. One way we do this is by facilitating Women’s Leadership Workshops for women who have been elected to their local village councils so that they can meet the development needs of their communities. Our work in India has also broadened to include young girls, empowering them with life skills, focusing on health, gender and the importance of education.
December’s Bihar Convention was a great opportunity for a community of amazing young girls to showcase their outstanding achievements and tremendous potential to craft their own lives – demonstrating what’s possible when we invest in girls.
The elected women leaders who took part in the convention served as role models, highlighting their own hardship marrying at a young age and being forced to forego a host of opportunities. The women bonded with the young girls, sharing stories and inspirational moments. As Shanmati, an elected woman leader, said during the convention:
“I talk to the girls in my village, informing them about their rights. Two girls reached out to me, asking me to talk to their parents and stop their marriages. I went to their houses and explained to their families that child marriage is a crime. I managed to convince them. This is one of my greatest successes, that I managed to save those two girls.”
The convention ended with a series of anti-child marriage performances by local female singers and artists. To symbolize the forward-moving mindset underpinning the event, the young girls released colorful balloons into the sky to celebrate their success, learnings and dreams. The colorful balloons soaring over the blue sky were a beautiful conclusion to the inspirational day and a beacon of hope, representing the self-reliant and fruitful future that is to come for this young generation of empowered girls in Bihar.