Posted by MV Foundation, Telangana
M Venkatarangaiya Foundation (popularly known as M V Foundation or MVF) has been relentlessly working during the pandemic on social and educational initiatives. They share some unexpected experiences of the impact of COVID-19 on the lives of young adolescent girls in our villages.
Manga, an MV Foundation (MVF) mobiliser received a copy of the wedding invitation card of Ramya, a class 10 student. It was a WhatsApp message from a Shankarpalli town based Anganwadi worker. Ramya attended the high school in Shankarpalli, like many girls from surrounding villages. Manga knew the bride to be as she was keeping a tab on her attendance.
The MVF mobilisers held meeting with girls on child rights, child marriage and gender discrimination in the school. There was no possible way of social mobilisation in Shankarpalli town. Manga did not have the advantage of seeking support from women’s groups, members of Child Rights Protection Forum, Gram Panchayat or neighbours and even the KBS (Kanya Balika Sangham- Adolescence Girls Committee) to talk to Ramya’s parents.
Manga, spoke to Ramya and assured her that action would be taken if she sought help from Childline. Friends, relatives and neighbours started to arrive at Ramya’s house. At 6 pm, Ramya gathered courage to call up the Childline Helpline number.
On receiving the call from Ramya, Childline team informed all the concerned departments and kept in touch with Manga. The CDPO (Child Development Project Officer) of the District Women and Child department directed her supervisor to rescue the girl with immediate effect. There were no buses plying to Shankarpalli from the supervisor’s village which was 20 miles away. Further, it was lockdown and late in the evening. Yet, the supervisor was determined to reach the girl’s house. She called up her colleagues and with difficulty managed an official jeep to pick her up for the rescue operation. Simultaneously, Childline got in touch with four members of ’She Team’ of the police department (specifically set up to protect women and girls ) to rescue Ramya. Both the teams travelled 20 kms to Shankarpalli from Chevella. The local police too were readied and two persons from Childline came along from Hyderabad city.
For all of them Manga, the MVF mobiliser was the contact person who coordinated and planned for their gathering at the venue discretely. The team was aghast that inspite of lockdown there was a crowd of relatives and friends attending the ceremony of the to-be a bride. The team spoke to all of them in groups warning them about action that could be taken against them under the Child Marriage Prohibition Act. After a huge altercation with the parents and relatives the marriage was stopped, and all the relatives disbursed from the wedding venue.
There were many issues still to be settled and acted upon. Was it safe for the girl to stay in the house with her family after such a huge commotion? Should she be placed in a shelter home instead? Should a case be booked against the parents, and all those who were aiding and abetting the child marriage? A tough decision had to be taken.
Ramya, the child bride was confident that she could stay with her family and did not want to be dislocated. It was decided that an Anganwadi worker would visit her every morning. The police from the She Team would also check once in three days. Manga would also join in to counsel Ramya’s parents off and on and give courage to her that no harm would be done. It was decided not to register a case as it would make it difficult for Ramya to move on with her education and even reconciliation with her family. Further the bridegroom and family were not yet present on the premises for any action to be taken on them.
The urgency with which all the functionaries acted is a consequence of constant engagement of the MVF mobilisers with the police and functionaries of child protection. They saw child marriage as a violation of human rights and felt a moral compunction to stop it.
Shravani, Lavanya and Mounika are children of landless daily wage labourers from Narsapur. Their village has a school only up to class 5. The children in 6th class walk 2 kms to reach Gadda Meeda Gangaram school as there is no transport facility available. Nevertheless, Shravani ventured to walk and complete her 6th and 7th class in Gangaram school.
Shravani did not join class 8 as she had to walk three and half kms further to reach the school in Kukkinda village. This was noticed by an Anganwadi teacher in her village who counselled her parents to continue the girl’s education. Shravani got admission in Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV) in 8th class.
Shravani completed her 10th class in KGBV. Wanting to join junior college she tried for admission in a government college with hostel as her family could not afford a seat in a private college. Sending their daughter away from home scared and prompted her parents to think of her marriage. They planned this out very quickly.
Here again, thanks to the efforts of the MVF mobiliser, Shravani’s wedding was stopped at 10 pm by the police and Anganwadi workers. The girl’s parents and relatives were counselled, and the girl was sent to the Sakhi Shelter Home for Girls at Vikarabad.
Cover Image: Arre
Story Images: Author
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