PATNA: Government campaigns do make a difference if run sincerely. In a heart-warming example of the positive effects the Bihar government’s drive against child marriage is producing, a 16-year-old girl, with some help from government counsellors, succeed in dissuading her parents from marrying her off.
When Priyanka Kumari, a Class X student at a government school in Danapur near Patna, learnt that her parents had finalised her wedding date, called up a toll-free number of the state government’s Women Development Corporation (WDC). She made a fervent plea for “immediate help”, saying she wanted to “become a graduate first”.
WDC officials forwarded her complaint to the Women’s Helpline of the social welfare department. Her parents were called for a discussion at the helpline office on Wednesday and informed that marriage of girls below 18 years in age was illegal. They were told that offenders could face a jail term up to two years or a fine of `1 lakh, or both.
“The girl’s parents agreed to cancel the wedding, which was fixed for February 28 next year. Her soon-to-be husband also called us up from Bengaluru and asked to be forgiven,” said Pramila Kumari, project manager of Women’s Helpline.
Priyanka is the eldest of five sisters and two brothers. Her father, a cart-puller, had fixed her marriage with 32-year-old Santosh Pandit, who works at a private firm in Bengaluru. “The girl’s mother, who sells vegetables, was more willing than the father to drop the wedding plans because she had noticed her daughter’s desire to study,” said a helpline official.
A 12-year-old Class VII student in Katihar district had similarly foiled her parents’ plans to get her married last month. Bihar tops the list among states in incidences of child marriage. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had on October 2 launched a campaign to eliminate the scourges of dowry and child marriage.