Kishori Abhijan “adolescent’s journey”.
The Kishori Abhijan/Empowerment of Adolescents is an initiative of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Located in Bangladesh the group works with young girls giving them the tools they need to make their own choices.
The project focuses on providing leadership skills and life skills for unmarried girls on issues such as child marriage, reproductive health and HIV/AIDS. It also offers technical training for livelihoods such as garment production or photography, as well as advice on how to start a business.
“We feel that if the adolescent boys and girls can take care of themselves, then that is a step forward, at least for them,” said Rosy Parvin, a unit organizer for the Kishori Abhijan project in Chapai Nawabganj, near the western Bangladeshi city of Rajshahi. “In the past, a village girl did not have any right to talk about herself. Today, she can talk with her parents and also negotiate with them. She can say if they are doing something wrong.”
In rural Bangladesh, girls from poor families are considered eligible for marriage at the onset of puberty – meaning children as young as 13 and 14 years old often become wives.
In an effort to bargain down dowry prices, partly to “protect” their children against sexual harassment, impoverished families seldom think twice before handing their girls off to husbands who are often much older.
UNICEF trained group leaders form self-help groups known as ‘kishori clubs’. Every fortnight 30 peers gather to discuss everything from reproductive health and nutrition to gender roles and violence against women.
Kishori clubs work with affiliated grassroots organizations like the Centre for Mass Education in Science (CMES), which operate in hundreds of sub-districts around the country and have proven invaluable in providing basic training in computer literacy and carpentry, among others.
Advocates are aware that education alone will not change the mindset that perpetuates child marriage. By improving economic opportunities for impoverished families, hopefully parents will less likely marry off their daughters at an early age.
Rose-Anne Papavero, UNICEF chief of child protection in Bangladesh, told IPS that the agency is working with the government to “provide conditional cash transfers (of $472 per year) to poor families… if they agree not to marry off their (underage) daughters, not to use child labor, and not practice corporal punishment.”
At the local registrar office, a union cannot be registered unless birth certificates are checked and parties meet the legal age of marriage, 18 for girls and 21 for boys. Before the group there were no such policies in place.
The program began in 2001 in response to an alarming number of child marriages in India.
Edited by Gillian Felix
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