Not a child’s play to stand up against child marriage

After saying a no to her own marriage, Bishnupriya Pradhan is saving others from child marriage

By Priya Ranjan Sahu
Published: Monday 03 February 2020

In 2012, Bishnupriya Pradhan refused to marry a boy of her parents’ choice. She was just 17 years old. “I did not know then that it was illegal to get married before 18 years. I took the decision because I wanted to study more,” says Pradhan, a resident of Gressingia village in Odisha’s tribal-dominated Kandhamal district. Today, she is successfully running an anti-child marriage campaign in her district. Since 2018, she has stopped 17 under-aged marriages. 

Pradhan’s transition from a girl who wanted to study to a crusader against child marriage took place when she joined the Antaranga Club, a network of non-profits started in the aftermath of communal riots in 2008 to promote harmony among the youth. The network, which has a presence in Pradhan’s village, today trains the youth on a multitude of issues including health, education and food security. In 2012, it started the Balya Bibaha Pratirodh Manch (front against child marriage) under youth leader Rashmita Bagarti, who recruited Bishnupriya in 2017 as one of the core members. 

“After joining the network, I realised the physical and mental toll child marriages take on girls and how it also impacts their children. It was a cause worth taking up,” she says. Over 21 per cent girls in the state are married before they turn 18, and Kandhamal is one of the worst-hit districts, according to the National Family Health Survey 4. 

Pradhan’s first intervention came in early 2018 when she saved a 16-year-old from getting married. “I took the help of anganwadi and ASHA workers in the village to convince the parents to call off the marriage. We explained to them how it will affect their child’s health and that it is illegal,” she says, adding that the girl also joined the front against child marriage. In another case, the situation flared up after the marriage was called off a day ahead of the wedding due to police intervention. “The entire village turned against me and I was advised not to visit it till normalcy returned,” she says.

0Balya Bibaha Pratirodh Manch also organises regular workshops at different gram panchayats to sensitise people against child marriage. They also recruit young volunteers at the workshops who inform them of child marriages in villages.

Kailash Dandapat, one of the founders of Antaranga, says the decision to involve young people like Pradhan is fast changing the mindset of the people. “Many parents now wait for their daughters to attain the marriageable age,” adds Dandapat. Pradhan concurs when she says child marriage would soon be a thing of the past in her district.

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