“Our family’s income is enough just to meet the basic needs as food, clothing and shelter. Given the financial hardships, my parents stopped my schooling after Class VIII and decided to marry me off despite me scoring good marks at school. They started to engage me in household work to prepare me for marriage,” narrates the young Sharmila* (the girl on the right) living in a suburban location in the state of West Bengal. While her father works as a daily-wage labourer, Sharmila’s mother is a domestic worker. However, her life was to soon take a turn for the better!
“One day, my friend took me to a meeting of an adolescent club formed and facilitated by Sristy for Human Society [an ally of ActionAid India]. There, I got the opportunity to learn about the various issues affecting adolescents. I got to know that marriage before the age of 18 is against the law and punishable. I also learnt about the ill effects of early marriage,” says Sharmila. Besides, participation in the adolescent club made her confident enough to subsequently tell her parents about her desire to continue education. And yes, she was able to convince them! “I told them about the leader of our adolescent club who is poor but is continuing her studies through Kanyashree grant,” she adds. The Kanyashree scheme of West Bengal Government aims to improve the status and well-being of girl children by incentivizing schooling of all teenage girls and delaying their marriage until the age of 18.
Sristy for Human Society and ActionAid India also helped Sharmila negotiate with the school authorities for admission since the last date for admission was already over. “Well, not only did I get admission into the school, but I was also included in the list of recipients of the Kanyashree grant. I thank Sristy for Human Society and ActionAid India for changing my life,” says a beaming Sharmila, now studying in Class IX.
Sharmila continues to be an active member of the adolescent group, generating awareness on issues affecting adolescents, including on the provisions of the Right to Education Act and The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act. ActionAid India facilitates the formation of adolescent groups in the areas that it works in; the key objectives are to bring out-of-school children back into school, provide them with the requisite skill-trainings, and enable them to become active participants in all matters and issues that concern them.
*Name changed to protect identity