Girls get creative to fight child marriage in India

Former child brides are using video, puppetry and folk music to prevent other child marriages

Stella Paul is a journalist for the Global Press Institute (GPI). The GPI trains girls and women in developing countries to become investigative journalists and produce professional reports on local news. The full version of this piece appeared in the Global Press Journal.

Nasreen Begum was married two months after her menstrual cycle started: she was just 12 years old.

"I had no idea what a marriage was," she says. "But [my] parents told me that I was mature now, and getting married was the best thing that could happen to me."

During the next decade, Nasreen married three times to men twice her age. She says they each made her do all the housework, had sex with her whenever they wanted and then abandoned her for other women.

Now, the 23-year-old mother of two girls is training to be a video campaigner against child marriage.

The legal marriage age in India is 18 for women but nearly half of Indian women aged 20 to 24 were married before their 18th birthday during 2007 and 2008, according to data from Unicef.

After her third husband divorced her two years ago, Nasreen and her daughters moved in with her mother. She discovered a motivational centre in the neighbourhood run by Mahita, an NGO campaigning against child rights violations in Hyderabad's slums.

A new start for Nasreen

Mahita teaches girls and adolescents from poor families vocational skills. It also trains them to produce videos, puppetry and folk music to raise awareness about illegal cultural practices, such as child marriage.

Nasreen was inspired by a film made by Nasreen Khatun, one of the organisation's original video trainees. "I watched the video, and I saw Nasreen smiling, talking with confidence at the camera, and I was so surprised," Nasreen Begum says.

"I could not believe that this girl also had a tragic past like me. Could I ever be like her? How could I smile like her, talk so confidently, take a bus all by myself, and go to an office and work?"

The girls and community members educated by Mahita now report child marriages, stage interventions and even start their own initiatives. Activists say that generating awareness through the arts is crucial to supplement government programmes.

For Nasreen Begum, all the motivation she needs to continue the campaign is right there at home. "That [child marriage] is something I will never let happen to my daughters," she says.

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