Preventing child marriage in India through education and community mobilization
"We have to make our village a child marriage-free one … this will pave the way for our girls to move forward in life.” – Shri Kalim Ahamad, faith-based leader.
In India, 23% of women aged 20 to 24 were married before the age of 18 years old, making India one of the countries with the highest rate of child marriage . Rooted in harmful gendered norms and rampant poverty, and linked to high rates of school dropout, this form of gender-based violence has disastrous, long-term impacts on girls’ lives. Crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic have increased this practice.
The Centre for Catalyzing Change (C3) is a women-led non-profit organization dedicated to empowering Indian women and girls to reclaim their rights, access opportunities and achieve gender equality. With the support of the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, C3 is leading a three-year project to reduce the prevalence of child marriage and protect girls’ rights.
Tackling the drivers of child marriage
Keeping girls in school is a proven strategy to protect them from child marriage. By running Education Enrichment Camps where girls at risk of dropping out are supported academically, C3 has already helped over 600 girls to stay in school.
Adolescent girls can also attend life skills workshops to become “adolescent champions” as a way to amplify their voices and influence their peers. They are trained to identify and report cases of child marriage and school dropouts, as well as raise community awareness on violence against women and girls. In Gumla city in Jharkhand state, 25 champions have reached 15,000 community members through street plays and in-school activities.
In addition, poverty has forced families to marry off their children. To address this, the project provides livelihood skill training to adolescent and young adult women. Once financially independent, these women are better equipped to stand up to their family and prevent early marriage.
Prevention through faith-based leaders
C3 recognizes the critical influence of faith-based leaders to challenge harmful social norms and practices such as child marriage. Vandana Nair, Lead on Adolescent and Young People at C3, notes: “Any work which involves long-term change, in terms of deeply ingrained social and cultural norms, requires rigorous and continuous engagement with stakeholders.”
Through interactive and activity-based workshops, C3 raises the awareness of faith-based leaders about harmful cultural practices and women’s rights, encouraging them to take action, for instance by refusing to condone or perform forced or child marriage. The 25 trained faith-based leaders are using their platforms to speak out against child marriage and have already reached 35,000 community members.
Preventing and addressing harmful practices requires an all-society approach. C3 engages with men and boys, adolescent champions, women’s groups, police officers, mukhiyas (village leaders) and government workers, sensitizing them on the consequences of child marriage and school dropout as well as their role in preventing it.
The project also works with village-level Child Protection Committees dedicated to promoting girls’ education and preventing child marriage.
C3 works to forge a supportive community where everyone is committed to protecting girls’ rights and building a safe environment for all. Thanks to their proactive efforts, C3 has already prevented 23 child marriages.