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Meghalaya girls fight child marriage scourge


GUWAHATI, March 4 - Mawiong, a remote and backward forest village located in Umpling block of Ri-Bhoi district in Meghalaya, has witnessed a remarkable social transformation as three spirited girls took on the scourge of child marriage and compelled the village panchayat to ban its practice.

Mawiong is a land where the vices of school dropouts, child marriage, teenage pregnancy and unemployment run deep. Road connectivity to the area was achieved as recently as January this year.

Acting on a recent case (February 7, 2020) of child marriage in which a 15-year-old girl was being married off to a 28-year-old man, the trio � Nikita Nongrum, Smartdini and Jolina � all associated with WAY Foundation, an NGO working with communities to effect positive social changes, persuaded the girl�s parents and mobilised the locals to treat the incident as a criminal offence.

�Given the villagers� deep-rooted social backwardness, it was far from easy. But the girls managed to convince the villagers about the illegality and immorality of the act. An FIR was lodged with the police and the girl was rescued. The man was sent to police custody. The trio pleaded before the elders of the village panchayat and the headman, Ashok Marak, later propounded a new rule in a general body meeting banning child marriage,� Indrajit Sinha, director of WAY Foundation, said.

The villagers took the pledge that child marriage would no longer be allowed, accepted and tolerated in the village, and in any such eventuality, both the families would be asked to leave the village and their properties confiscated by the panchayat.

Nikita Nongrum (19) is currently pursuing her graduation, being only the second girl from the community who is enrolled in a graduation programme, with the potential to be the next head woman of Mawiong. Smartdini (16), a Class IX student and the youngest of the trio, has also been a Sports Visitor Fellow to USA-2019. In the face of mounting pressure by the man�s family to settle the marriage, it was Smartdini who helped mobilise the grandmothers and the villagers against the crime.

Being engaged with the WAY Foundation, with its capacity building initiatives through football among other tools, these girls have developed into community leaders with thorough understanding of the ethos of gender, child rights, child marriage and child labour.

�Through regular awareness and exposure programmes at local, national and international levels, and workshops and gender conversations with the community on issues and concerns surrounding children, family planning, the importance of education, etc., they have become teenage change-makers, taking responsibility of their own localities and by engaging with local policy makers through dialogue, at the panchayat level,� Sinha said.

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