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Take A Pyramid Approach To End Child Marriages In India: Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee


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India is home to the largest number of child brides in the world with girls as young as 8-year-old are married off to men much older than them. According to the National Family Health Survey-5 (2019-21), the overall rate of child marriages has dropped from 26.8 per cent (2015-16) to 23.3 per cent. However, it is still high despite laws, programmes and schemes in place to address the issue. To eradicate this social evil, Kailash Satyarthi Children's Foundation and NDTV have initiated Justice For Every Child – Child Marriage Free India. The aim of the campaign is to reduce child marriages by 10 per cent from the current level of 23.3 per cent by end of the campaign in 2025.

Over 20,000 women joined the campaign launched on October 17. Speaking at the launch event, Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee shared the steps required to end child marriage in India. Ms Gbowee who has been a torchbearer of peace said, “When I think about ending child marriage, the first thing that comes to my mind is a pyramid. The fight against child marriage must take a pyramid approach – the bottom, the middle and the top. The bottom being those 20,000 women who have signed up to end child marriage but that is just not enough. At the middle level, we need all of the community leaders, religious leaders, media, and all those. At the top level, it is the political will - politicians, those in parliaments and at the Supreme Court level. It is the political will for prosecution because laws in themselves will not end child marriage.”

Ms Gbowee has led a women's non-violent peace moment and actually helped to bring to an end an awful civil war. When asked about the role of women in putting an end to the evil practise of child marriage in India, she said, “Going together, not putting themselves together into small cooperatives to say we are the anti-child marriage police in our community. Because one thing you have to acknowledge is that before any child marriage happens in any community, the women are aware. I want to use this knowledge to end child marriage; coming together as a group to say, we will not allow this practice to happen in our community is very key.”



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Child Marriage Is A Social Evil And Gives Birth To Crimes Like Child Sexual Abuse: Kailash Satyarthi​

"Tonight is the beginning of a new sun. While the sun has set across the country, a new sun is rising in our hearts. These torches will end the age-old practise of child marriage and make India a new India. Our sisters and daughters will lead the campaign and we will not stop until we end child marriage", said Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi as he ignited a torch to eliminate the evil of child marriage and launched Child Marriage Free India, a pan-India campaign. 70,000 women joined the fight across 26 states and union territories (UTs).

Child marriage is prohibited in India and contact with a minor is a punishable offence. In fact, many state governments have introduced social security programmes to keep girls from getting married at a young age. Despite this, 23 out of 100 girls are married before the age of 18.

10 key things Kailash Satyarthi said at the launch of Child Marriage Free India:​

  1. The biggest reason behind this (child marriage) is the lack of social consciousness and accepting child marriage as a ritual and custom. Many people think that marrying off girls at a young age increases their security but this is an age-old thinking. Today, we have laws to protect girls. Earlier fewer girls would get an education but today, many girls are getting an education.”
  2. Many times, a family's poor financial condition comes in the way. People think that girls are a burden on a family, so why spend on their education so let us marry her off at a young age and send her to her husband's house. She belongs to a foreign house. The biggest problem is our thinking.
  3. Another issue is a lack of knowledge about laws or ignoring the laws and turning a blind eye towards them. A lot of political leaders, I speak to, say that it is the issue of our caste and culture, our vote bank, there are so many voters that we have to attend marriages. However, if the politicians are going, if the influential people are attending the wedding ceremonies of minor girls, that is a crime in itself. It is a crime against humanity, a crime against those children.
  4. Some people use girls for trafficking and take them away in lieu of marriage. Some people take girls away from their homes as domestic help. Child marriage is a social evil and the kind of evil that gives birth to multiple crimes like child sexual abuse. It provides a license, and social acceptance to fewer people to perpetuate the rape of those girls and sexual abuse, as well as selling and buying them like animals.
  5. To address the issue, we need two things - social consciousness that sees girls and boys as equal and we should respect them. Secondly, the laws should be followed. Keepers of laws should be held liable for this. Police should mandatorily file FIR against child marriages and take action against all people involved – priests, guests, decorators, and caterers, among others. What is needed is accountability for those responsible for the implementation of the law against child marriages.
  6. I feel there are three biggest enemies that run this ecosystem and that becomes a well-accepted, validated system in this entire ecosystem. They are fear, silence and shame.
  7. People who know that child marriage is bad, it is evil, and a crime, do not speak out. They fear shame and torture.
  8. The second is, silence – it perpetuates violence in this ecosystem. Girls and their mothers choose to remain silent because they are scared of the shame that will bring upon their families and village. Mothers are afraid that no one will marry their girl.
  9. The third thing is a shame. All three are interrelated. They propel crime against children. A war against these three is also important.
  10. I plead to everyone involved in a wedding - band people, decorators, caterers, religious leaders and others - we are planning to bring them all together. I believe that their daughters and sisters will relate to the campaign. I request their families to stop their fathers from getting involved in this crime. Anywhere in the country, if anyone takes a stand against child marriage and faces backlash, we will support them. I will go to safeguard them if any problem arrives.
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