Scholarship saves lakhs of WB girls from early marriage

State government gets global accolades for its work

Sakina Khatoon is a teenager with high aspirations and sees herself as a doctor in the near future. Her education, however, was not a priority to her father Abu Taher, who fixed her marriage in May, 2013.

Had it not been for a government scholarship, Sakina would have been forced to quit her studies for an early marriage.

Sakina is one of the recipients of a scholarship under the West Bengal government’s Kanyashree Prakalpa scheme started in 2013. As the government gears up to celebrate the first anniversary of the scheme on August 14 and mark the day as “Kanyashree Divas”, about 9 lakh girls like Sakina, between the age of 13 and 19, share the joy of continuing with their education instead of being pushed into an early marriage.

The government’s incentive, which has received global accolades, of a one-time scholarship of Rs 25,000 and an annual scholarship of Rs 500 for a girl child’s education has convinced many parents to allow their daughters to study.

Kanyashree is a pet project of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who conceptualised it to check high percentage of child marriages in Bengal.

A year later, the ground situation seems to show a significant change in the percentage of girls dropping out of school. The state government, meanwhile, is working hard to bring more girls under the project.

According to senior officials from the state Women and Child Welfare Department, under whose aegis the programme is run, the state’s population of people between the age of 10 and 19 is about 1.73 crore of whom about 48 per cent are girls.

“West Bengal had the fifth highest prevalence of child marriage in India with around 57 per cent married women between the age of 20 and 24 in rural areas found to be married under 18. The Kanyashree project has helped bring down this figure,” the official said.

Officials could not provide the figures. But during a recent visit to Birbhum district, where prevalence of child marriage is second highest (58 per cent), Deccan Herald found that the ground situation has changed considerably in the last one year.

Women and Child Welfare Minister Shashi Panja told the state Assembly that till January 2014, 8.3 lakh girls received the annual stipend of Rs 500 and around 48,000 girls, who turned 18, were given the one-time grant of Rs 25,000.

“While 15.52 lakh girls were provided the first kind of benefit by March, 1.3 lakh girls received the second benefit,” she said and added that the government is conducting a survey across the state to understand the project’s impact.

Meanwhile, the project’s success was lauded by the Unicef and the Department for International Development under the British government chose the project for presentation at the Girl Summit -2014 held in London in July.

The state government, which made a presentation on the scheme, received a standing ovation from a global audience at the summit.

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