Five Bengal girls fight child marriages

Five brave girls from West Bengal, described by President Pratibha  Patil as icons, are becoming agents of change and inspiring other young girls in the fight against child marriages.  

Afsana Khatun, Bina Kalindi, Mukti Majhi, Sangita Bauri and Sunita Mahato hit the headlines by fighting off pressure from their families and calling off their marriages in order to continue studies.  They are now forming groups with teenagers campaigning against minor girls' marriages in Purulia district. They were honoured by an NGO Friday.

"If we get the news that preparations of marriage of an under-age girl are going on in our village, we go to the girl's house and persuade her parents not to indulge in child marriage," said Sangita, 15. Patil, who invited the girls to Rashtrapati Bhavan recently, told them to share their stories and encourage other girls to protest against the social evil.

The five girls, whose primary education got delayed as most of them had to work as domestic helps due to poverty, are now dreaming to become teachers and police women. Sangita, now a high school student and a participant in the “Child Activist  Initiative” of the central government-sponsored National Child Labour Project (NCLP), has formed a team of five girls in her Ladaga village to create awareness against child marriage.    

"In our community when a girl gets married at an age of 12-13 years, her education stops. We urge the parents of teenaged girls to help them continue their studies," Sangita said here Friday evening at a programme organised by NGO Dhanwantari Seva Foundation.

Sangita now wants to become a police woman to punish people who commit atrocities against girls. Asked when she will be getting married, Sangita said: "I will marry after becoming financially established."  
The NGO, which sponsors education of underprivileged girls, felicitated the five teenagers in recognition to their courageous stand against child marriage.

Mukti, who is now studying in Class 7, said she also set up a group of five girls to create awareness against the social evil and encourage her peers to say no to child marriage. She is also dreaming of a career in the police force.  

Purulia Additional Labour Commissioner Prosenjit Kundu, who supported the girls, said: “It is a social custom in their communities to get married at the age of 12 or 13 years." "But these girls have seen that under-age marriage of their elder sisters did not come off well. After marriage, they had to stop their studies and some of them were even  deserted by their husbands," Kundu said.

“These girls called off their early marriage and dissuaded community leaders. Now these girls have become inspiration for other girls,” Kundu said.

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