Fazal Haque, 15, student at Anchalik High School of Simina village in Kamrup district of Assam, and nine other boys and girls keep themselves busy by looking out for families who are marrying off their under-age daughters and intervene.
Fazal and his classmates Babar Ali, Aqib Hussain, Mamoni Begum, Karabi Kalita and Jyotsna Begum are members of a group called Asha Rengoni, which means ray of hope.
According to Aquib, at least 10 girls from their school dropped out because they were married off. “Their parents citing tradition as well as economic hardship,” said Aquib. So far they have intervened and stopped two child marriages.
The group is part of a program called Young Reporters Initiative; there are more than 90 groups in the districts of Kamrup and Dibrugarh. Some groups in the Dibrugarh district are running campaigns against child marriage.
Momi Munda, 18, member of the group said that many people, especially tea plantation laborers, don’t know that there is a minimum age for a girl’s marriage.
Young Reporters Initiative is run jointly by the Assam branch of Kasturba Gandhi National Memorial Trust (KGNMT) andUNICEF.
More than 1,000 children in the Kamrup and Dibrugarh districts have been included in the groups.
“It is a kind of multi-purpose initiative where we are not only talking about child rights directly with select groups of children, but also supporting them in taking rights-related issues to the community,” said Damayanti Devi, state secretary of KGNMT.
Young Reporters also conduct surveys and field reports on child labor, sanitation, safe drinking water, malnutrition, immunization, primary school education, mid-day meal, birth registration and delivery of various Integrated Child Development Services programs.
Last year, village elders at Sarulah in Hajo block of Kamrup district enlisted the help of the local Young Reporters group in mounting a campaign against drugs and liquor.
“The group not only helped coin slogans and cartoons against drugs and liquor, but also composed jingles and staged street plays,” said Himarani Baishya, coordinator of the project.
Recently, 15 children each from Dibrugarh and Kamrup carried out a random survey in two villages near Guwahati, during which they discovered several problems.
“The findings of these groups are published as news and features in Mukta Akash, a quarterly newsletter. This newsletter is not only distributed in schools, panchayats (Villages), clubs and mahila samitis (women’s group?) in the two districts, but is also sent to government functionaries, including the chief minister,” Damayanti Devi said.
Many of these reports have had an impact. In Dibrugarh district, a wooden bridge which had been damaged by floods was repaired only after a Young Reporters group wrote about it.