In Kapilvastu of Western Nepal, monsoon was in full swing. Farmers were busy transplanting paddy, and tending to their fields. It was then that a set of parents began making plans to marry off their child. In front of a hushed audience, these parents transported us to a world where someone is discriminated just because she is born a female. The girl cannot continue her studies, has to marry according to her parents’ wishes when she is barely a teenager, has to pay cash and property as dowry, and faces a grim future.
This was the real world depicted by children of Kapilvastu through a play. In the drama, the child escapes marriage and continues her education. But the reality is that a 15 year girl who lives just 300 meters away from the school, where the drama was staged, was forced to marry against her will.
On 9 July 2016, members of the child club network of Mahuwa Village Development Committee (VDC) got together to write, direct and enact this play. It was certainly a jolt to the community members in the VDC, where incidences of child marriage are as high as 70%.
"As a Female Community Health Volunteer (FCHV), I have been advocating against child marriage for last 23 years because it affects girls’ education and health," FCHV Sunita said after watching the drama, "Now children are raising the issue. If only we could internalize the message they are trying to relay, we could pave the way for women's development."
Along with the drama, the Kapilvastu launch of the campaign was entirely child led. The child club network hosted the program, and children from various parts of Kapilvastu narrated their efforts to fight against gender inequality and question stakeholders. The stakeholders included District Education Officer, Child Right Inspector from District Child Welfare Board, Assistant District Education Officer and VDC Secretary.
This child led approach worked in three important ways: it strengthened children’s understanding on their rights, provided them with a platform to share experiences and efforts to fight gender disparity and encouraged major stakeholders and seniors to hear out the children’s queries and messages.
However, there are still challenges galore – although more than 50% of the child network members were girls, none of them came forward to lead the event, except our anchor Gunjeshwori. This event is a reflection of just how difficult it is for girl children to let go of their insecurities and engage themselves with confidence. This day should actually be taken as a reminder to make sure that girls are provided with adequate support to break free of economic, social, cultural and other barriers that prevent them from exploring their potential.
At the launch, the voices of children were quite pronounced, and the eight stories they told of their lives made me believe that change is possible. "I got married at the age of 15. I didn't want to, but my parents forced me," shared 18-year-old Rupesh, "I can't undo the past, but I can make sure my wife doesn't miss out on education. I have told my parents that she will not come to our house unless she studies well. She now studies in grade 10, while I am in grade 12. I did not allow my parents to arrange a marriage for my younger sister, either." Then there was Sharmila, married off at 13, but who refused to stop her education, and is now a teacher.
Besides being perfect role models for every last child, these children warned parents and adults from forcing any child into marriage and made passionate appeals not to discriminate the girl child from education and protection. A participant said, “If you (parents) marry your girl child, you would not be fulfilling your parental obligation but creating your path to hell.” We couldn’t have worded it better!