Education is key to freeing the girl child from deeply entrenched social barriers

NCRB data shows 33 girls forced into child marriage every day in 2021

By John Roberts
Published: Wednesday 21 September 2022

We are close to celebrating International Girl Child Day October 11, but there are several gaps in securing the future of girls in our country. Crime data showed at least 33 girls were kidnapped and abducted to be pushed into child marriage every day in 2021. 

Preventing school drop outs and focusing on education is the key to securing the freedom of India’s girl children in the truest sense.

Shakteeswari was born to a poor family in Vyasarpadi, one of the oldest and biggest slums in Chennai that is also infamously known as the ‘crime capital of the city’. She has seen her parents face extreme difficulties in providing basic food and education for her and her five siblings.

Unlike many other teenagers like her, Shakteeswari, also lovingly called Shakti, dreamt only of football, typically a male bastion. Unfortunately, her family’s financial conditions worsened and the 13-year-old was forced to drop out of school.

She took to child labour, earning a paltry remuneration of Rs 15 a day in a fish packing company. The extreme working conditions and contact with ice throughout the day made the teenager’s fingers bleed regularly.

Read more: International Women’s Day: How education can rewrite the story of child marriages in India

The pressure on the family meant her sisters were married off at 18. The possibility of child marriage also loomed large for her.

Her interest in football led to an intervention by Slum Children Sports Talent Education Development Society (SC STEDS), an organisation based in the slum communities in the area.

SC STEDS, with help from the local school and community members, helped Shakti get back to school and follow her passion for playing football.

Today, Shakti is 24 years old and Tamil Nadu’s first woman football referee. She has now refereed more than 90 matches. She has also brought home many national and international football trophies and also represented the Indian team in the International Match for Slum children in Paris (France).

Shakti is also a mother to a girl and has a Bachelor’s in Chemistry. She also pursued a law degree and is currently practising as a lawyer.

She is also a community organiser for SC STEDS and coaches children in football. Shakti also guides girls in the community in achieving their dreams.

Today, Shakteeswari’s journey has become a leading example for marginalised girls in her community, who want to script their new paths far away from the endemic social problems and the shadows of multi-dimensional poverty.

However, there are still scores of girls in India who weren’t as lucky and for whom freedom and empowerment seem to be a distant dream. 

Non-profit Child Rights and You (CRY) analysed the recently released National Crime Records Bureau 2021 data. It found 12,202 cases under Section 366 of the Indian Penal Code or kidnapping and abduction of minor girls to compel her for marriage.

This means that at least 33 girls were kidnapped and abducted to be pushed into child marriage every day in 2021.

However, the number of cases reported under Prohibition of Child Marriage Act in 2021 was 1050, an increase of 33.76 per cent from 785 such cases in 2020.

Also, a total of 613 cases of Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act and 425 cases of child trafficking cases were reported under Human Trafficking (Sec 370 and 370A IPC) in India last year, highlighted NCRB 2021 data.

Education is a crucial component of any effective effort to empower girl children and is deeply interlinked to safeguarding India’s girls from the various protection issues. These issues significantly affect girls’ education as they are forced to drop out/discontinue their schooling, making them vulnerable/exposed to victimisation.

In the last four-plus decades, CRY has been working extensively to protect and give wings to the dreams of girls and ensure a secure future for them. 

The non-profit has taken significant steps towards addressing the issue of child labour and preventing child marriage, which includes the identification of child labourers by individual household visits.

It has also worked towards engagement at community level as well as engagement at the systemic level; counselling support for children and families and inclusion of children into children collective/sports/activities.

Read more: Lack of access to education keeps 98 million children in sub-Saharan Africa out of schools

Imparting CRY’s life skill modules through adolescent children collectives, giving children space to share and grow in confidence has also been one of the steps undertaken by it..

From being a vulnerable girl and victim of grave social problems, Shakteeswari defied all odds and became an independent and empowered woman by leveraging the power of education and sports.

Education is a key factor in reducing poverty, child labour, adversity, exploitation, etc. It is the key to addressing all violations against children and one of the crucial means of ensuring a secured future for India’s girl children.

Hence, it is essential for citizens, government and civil society organisations to come together to reduce school drop-outs/increase re-enrolment. We need to promote the extension of Right To Education to pre-school and secondary levels so that children, especially girls, become educated and empowered citizens who can truly access their freedom.

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

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