17-year-old rids her village of child marriage

Last Updated 18 October 2019, 02:39 IST

It was not easy for 17-year-old Payal to overcome the odds that were stacked against her by virtue of her birth in Hinsla, a village in Alwar, Rajasthan. More than 35% of minor girls in her state are married in childhood. The state with 15 million child brides is among the states with the highest prevalence of child marriage in the country.

The statistics mean that for Payal and other girls like her, their hopes of getting education can be stripped away at any time by their parents. This is exactly what happened to Payal when she was 11 years. The girl confronted the situation successfully.

"When I learned that my parents succumbed to the pressures of society and fixed my and my sister’s marriage, I told this to the activists in my school who were apprising everyone about the concepts of Bal Mitra Gram, which my village was beginning to become. They, in turn, reported to Sumedha Kailash Ji, the founder of the Bal Ashram Trust. With her intervention and support, I protested and raised my voice against the decision of my family. Eventually, my parents relented and my marriage was called off," explained Payal.

After her initial success, Payal began mobilising other children of the village to protest against the social evils of child marriage and Ghunghat Pratha (women folk covering their face by veil). Within a year, everyone could see the conditions changing. Women and children started coming out and voicing their opinions. Eventually, Hinsla became a child marriage-free village. This was a victory for Payal.

Inspired by Kailash Satyarthi and Sumedha Kailash, his wife, who through Bachpan Bachao Andolan made this village a child-friendly place that was free of exploitation and encouraged education, she jumped into full-blown activism in 2012.

“Until and unless children realise their rights, they won’t be able to relate. However, there should be someone to guide the child through,” Payal said.

Payal believes that social evils and crimes like child marriage and child labour are prevalent in poor areas due to lack of education.

"We aim to raise awareness through rallies and protests in communities and empower them by educating them about their rights. I feel happy that children, especially girls, from my village and neighbouring areas are attending school regularly," she said.

Last month, Payal was awarded the Changemaker Award by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for her work towards the abolition of child marriage.

Praising Payal's work, Kailash Satyarthi said, “Young people like Payal are using their powerful voices to change the world. Their activism, dedication and bravery are already making changes, and I know there is more to come.”

(Published 17 October 2019, 19:00 IST)

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