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Adolescent girl champions from Odisha interact with international committee to End Child Marriage

Bhubaneswar: Adolescent girls from different districts of Odisha interacted with a team of representatives from various countries on their journey as champions to End Child Marriage in the state.

Twenty girls interacted with international visitors in Bhubaneswar and shared their stories of courage and determination, with many of them, have resisted the pressure from families to get married at an early age.

The team comprised Isabelle Solon Helal, Deputy Director, Global Affairs Canada, Ali Hendy, Child Protection and Child Marriage Lead, UK (FCDO), Ritika Dhall, Assistant Director, Gender Equality, Norad, Beate Gabrielsen, Head of Political Section, Norway, Mieke Vogels, Senior Policy Advisor SRHR, Netherlands Embassy, and Ute Scholz, President, Zonta International who, together with senior representatives of UNICEF and UNFPA as part of the steering committee of the Global Programme to End Child Marriage (GPECM) were part of the interaction.

The Global Programme promotes the rights of adolescent girls to avert child, early, forced marriage, and pregnancy and enables them to achieve their aspirations through education and alternative pathways. It supports households in demonstrating positive attitudes, empowers girls to direct their futures, and strengthens the services that allow them to do so.

The adolescent girls from Odisha shared their stories of courage and journey as peer leaders and also asked questions to the visitors.

“My parents wanted me to get married when I was 15 years old. I was scared of the consequences if I refused. But I spoke to Anganwadi didi and together with district administration officials, they convinced my parent not to go ahead with the marriage. They helped me to enroll in the Industrial Training Institute where I learned tailoring. Today I earn Rs 8,000 a month and proudly support my family,” said Malati Pujari from Nabarangpur.

Suprava Subhadarshini Behera, 16 years, from Kandhamal is training to be an electrician. Like Malati, her marriage was fixed in July this year. She too reached out to the Anganwadi worker and with her help could stop her marriage. Both the girls, like many others in the state, have been benefitting from the Advika initiative that teaches life skills to adolescents through weekly meetings at the Anganwadi centers.

The girls also asked questions to the team on gender inequality in western countries, the value of education as the only path to success, and the minimum age of marriage in other countries.

“While education is important, a person can learn through experiences as well,” said Isabelle Solon Helal, Deputy Director, of Global Affairs Canada. She said children can volunteer with their communities, take up a sport, learn a new craft and add more dimensions to their education which needn’t only be through schools and colleges.

Ritika Dhall, Assistant Director, Gender Equality, Norad from Norway said gender inequality is often hidden. It may show in difference in salaries between men and women even though they do the same work. “We need to work around the world to ensure equality is understood and practiced,” she said.

Launched in 2016 the Global Programme to End Child Marriage covers 12 countries – Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Mozambique, Nepal, Niger, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Yemen, and Zambia.

It is the first United Nations-led joint initiative designed with a focus on promoting the rights of adolescents to delay marriage, supporting adolescents to realize their rights by engaging with communities and strengthening systems that deliver critical services to adolescents, including health and education.

In Odisha UNICEF and UNFPA, through support from GPECM, work across all 30 districts to promote life skills for adolescents, improve overall well-being including sexual and reproductive health and build more capacity within the government systems to prevent child marriage and build linkages to skilling and livelihood opportunities. The programme also promotes positive behaviour changes and social norms to empower girls and provide equal opportunities to girls and boys.

Before the interaction with the adolescents, the donors visited Ganjam and Gajapati districts to understand the joint work between UNICEF and UNFPA on ending child marriage by interacting with multiple partners, adolescents, community members including Panchayat representatives, and women’s groups. They also interacted with the District Task Force on ending child marriage and adolescent empowerment.

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