According to a report by ActionAid, published earlier this year, 33% (85.2 million) of the total number of child brides in the world are from India, and nearly 103 million Indians are married before their 18th birthday.
The reasons are manifold. Poverty, the looming fear of dowry, and other socio-economic factors like patriarchy, class, caste, poor education, and societal pressure act as catalysts. Combating child marriage requires preventive measures and the education of children and parents alike.
There are many initiatives, programs and schemes addressing the issue of child marriage. Most fall into the categories of education, economic opportunities and financial incentives, improvement of nutrition and laws and policies. These schemes provide support and work as an incentive so that parents do not get their children married before the legal age.
Technology plays a significant role in preventing child marriages. “GPower,” an app launched in 2014, as a joint venture of Accenture and NGO CINI (Child in Need Institute) has reportedly helped in saving over 200 girls spread around 20 villages from either being trafficked or being a victim of child marriage.
Teachers in villages were trained and provided with tablets/phones with the app installed. Their job was to register every detail of adolescent girls aged between 10-19 in those villages. The app sent data to servers, for analysis, giving results and trends.
Another app, BandhanTod, used an SOS method to alert the nearest NGO when a child marriage issue was identified.
The latest initiative to combat child marriage prefers to tackle the problem at the source. UNICEF and the Administrative Staff College of India have come together to create an app, to monitor the attendance of school girls in Malda, West Bengal. The app looks to track the attendance of girls and raise an alarm if an anomaly arises.
Every school in the region will be provided with the app. A teacher will register attendance of the students, and if a girl is absent for five consecutive days, the authorities will take a note of it and try to identify the reason for the absence.
According to officials concerned, the application will also serve other purposes. The Chairperson of the Child Welfare Committee and a Councillor of the English Bazaar Municipality both told The Statesman, “In the current situation in the district, this drive is important as it will help curb the tendency of the parents to marry their kids off prematurely.”
School is vital, for education can be a means for these girls to climb out of their rigid social structure. The awareness spread amongst parents helps them realise the advantages of educating and nurturing their children’s dreams instead of marrying them off.
However, being aware of a situation can only help to a certain extent, and in this regard, the app which tracks attendance to ensure that all is right is a stronger approach because it works as a preventive measure and seeks to nip the problem in the bud.