KOLKATA, India, 24 February 2010 – Almost 225 children from across West Bengal gathered together today to launch a movement against child marriage called “Amar Shaishab Amar Adhikar,” (My Childhood, My Right) at a meeting jointly hosted by the Department of Women and Child Development & Social Welfare, Government of West Bengal and UNICEF in Kolkata.
“Entrenched traditions and poverty force many girls into early marriage.
As long as this practice continues, ensuring real human development can never be achieved. A child bride is more vulnerable to poverty, hunger, abuse, disease and maternal mortality – a legacy that may well be passed on to her own children,” said Mr. Biswanath Choudhury, Minister in Charge - Department of Women and Child Development & Social Welfare, Government of West Bengal while releasing the manifesto developed by children as a first call for action.
"Today is a historic day for our children because they have decided to change the status quo and demand for what is rightfully theirs” he added.
While progress is being made to reduce child marriage in the state, the pace of change is slow and it remains an unacceptable reality. According to the Third National Family Health Survey, every second girl is married in childhood in West Bengal. Of all teenage girls 15-19 years in the state, one-third are mothers. The manifesto gathers together for the first time views of children on child marriage and translates them into tangible actions for parents, teachers and communities.
“Rights can be declared and policies formulated, but unless laws are actually implemented, they will have little effect. All our efforts as partners are meaningless if the lives of disadvantaged, vulnerable children, their families and communities are not improved,” said Karin Hulshof, UNICEF India Representative. “We need to have a zero-tolerance policy towards child marriage, so that every child, boy and girl, has the opportunity to live their childhood and gain an education.”
UNICEF efforts to prevent child marriage in West Bengal have included supporting a pilot intervention in Malda district which has the highest number of child marriages in the state.
By mobilizing parents and children against child marriage, implementing a village level monitoring system to track child marriages, building capacity of teachers, anaganwadi workers and village committee members on the issue and developing an evidence-based documentation on norms and values around child marriage is expected to transform 30 villages in Malda district as child marriage free. More recently UNICEF supported a state consultation on child marriage and state level advocacy efforts.
For further information, please contact:
Lori Calvo, Chief of Field Office, UNICEF West Bengal
Tel: +91-98-31096706; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Angela Walker, Communication Chief, UNICEF India.
Tel: +91-98-18106093; e-mail: email@example.com
Sonia Sarkar, Communication Officer (Media), UNICEF India.
Tel: +91-98-9186-1445; e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org