Radio Listeners’ Groups led the campaign against Child Marriage during COVID-19

Konark: 12 million girls are married every year before they reach the age of 18 years, according to one estimate by the UN. Ending child marriage by 2030 is one of the targets of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and many developing countries like India have developed strategies to stop the practice.

However, the progress is slow and the initiatives are affected by the coronavirus pandemic. In April, the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) predicted that an additional 13 million children could be married over the next one decade because of the disruption of programmes and India is one of the countries which will be most affected.

Given the scenario, the Community Radio campaign ‘Nua Sakalara Katha’ is being run in different parts of Odisha to fight against the pandemic and to end child marriage to enable girls to fulfil their potential. The Radio Listeners’ Group members have played an important role to sensitize the community on the issue of child marriage during the pandemic. Thus, the campaign has contributed to the long battle against the social evil.

During the campaign, listeners’ group members were trained on the issue of child marriage and radio programmes were produced and broadcast to support the campaign. Total of 81 villages were adopted in 12 districts of Odisha by these community radio stations to generate awareness on the issue. Different outreach activities like narrowcasting sessions, talk shows, community interactions, village level meetings etc were organised to increase mass awareness. These initiatives were led by the listeners’ group members; who took initiatives in their villages to create awareness and end the practice of child marriage.

In this campaign, officials from local and district administrations like District Magistrate, District Child Protection Officer, Child Development Project Officer, ICDS supervisor, school teachers, doctors, PRI members, youth clubs, SHG federations, religious leaders, women, young girls and villagers were involved.

As a result, 47 village-level Child Marriage Taskforce Committees have been formed and pledged to end child marriage. The listeners’ groups urged the local administration to extend the campaign in the district and declare villages as child-marriage free. The community-led effort was appreciated by their own community people and local administration.

“Majority of the population of our panchayat are from backward and marginalised communities and they are not aware of the different consequences and legal provisions of child marriage. So, the cases of child marriages were seen in these communities which were conducted secretly and unreported. But after the community awareness and sensitization through community radio campaign ‘Nua Sakalara Katha’ the local people are now aware about it,” said Jharana Parida, a regular listener of Radio Namaskar and president of Kurujanga Self Help Groups Federation.

“I had no knowledge about the scale of child marriages happening in our society and I had accepted this practice as part of our social norms. I lately realised how it affects girls badly and poses a threat not only on their health aspects but in their other aspects of their lives. Now I have taken pledge to stand and fight against child marriage in our area. I will create awareness in my friends, relatives on the issue,” said Pratima Sahoo who is a regular listener of Radio Bulbul in Bhadrak district.

As per the review and feedback by partner community radio stations; no child marriage case was reported in those adopted villages after the campaign.

These initiatives, undertaken under the campaign “Nua Sakalara Katha” are aimed to create awareness on various issues & its possible local possibilities on COVID-19 among vulnerable and migrant labor communities in Odisha. The campaign is implemented through 13 community radio stations of Odisha reaching about 4 million rural population with active support from the US Consulate General Hyderabad and Young India, a Konark based development organisation .