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Bandhan Tod : The Latest Mobile App to End Child Marriage in India’s Bihar

Despite a law banning girls from marrying before they turn 18, the practice is deeply rooted in tradition and widely accepted in Indian society.

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Child marriage
Child bride Krishna, 12, stands at a doorway into her compound in a village near Baran, in India's Rajasthan state. Despite a law banning girls from marrying before they turn 18, the practice is deeply rooted in tradition and widely accepted in Indian society. (VOA)
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Bihar, September 20, 2017 : A mobile phone app is the latest tool for campaigners seeking to end child marriage in India’s Bihar state, where nearly two-thirds of girls in some of its rural areas are married before the legal age of 18.

The app, Bandhan Tod, was developed by Gender Alliance — a collective of more than 270 charities in Bihar focused on gender rights — and launched this week by Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi. It is backed by the U.N. Population Fund.

India ranks among countries with the highest rates of child marriage in the world, accounting for a third of the global total of more than 700 million women, according to UNICEF, the United Nations children’s agency.

Bandhan Tod — meaning “break the binds” — includes classes on child marriage and dowries and their ill effects. It also has an SOS button that notifies the team when activated.

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“The app is a big part of our efforts to end child marriage in the state,” said Prashanti Tiwary, head of Gender Alliance.

“Education is good, but when a young girl wants help because she is being forced to marry before the legal age, the app can be her way out,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Despite a law banning girls from marrying before they turn 18, the practice is deeply rooted in tradition and widely accepted in Indian society. It is rarely reported as a crime and officials are often reluctant to prosecute offenders.

While boys also marry before the legal age of 21, girls are disproportionately affected.

Risks of abuse, death rise

Early marriage makes it more likely that girls will drop out of school, and campaigners say it also increases risks of sexual violence, domestic abuse and death in childbirth.

Legal efforts have failed to break the stranglehold of tradition and culture that continues to support child marriage, charity ActionAid India said in a report this year.

When the SOS on Bandhan Tod is activated, the nearest small NGO will attempt to resolve the issue. If the family resists, then the police will be notified, said Tiwary.

A similar app in West Bengal state to report child marriage and trafficking of women and children has helped prevent several such instances, according to Child in Need Institute, which launched the app in 2015.

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Other efforts include a cash incentive, where the state transfers a sum of money to the girl’s bank account if she remains in school and unwed at age 18.

Suppliers of wedding tents in Rajasthan state have stopped dozens of child marriages by alerting officials.

“It will take a change in mindset and behavior to end child marriage,” said Tiwary, who is lobbying the government to raise the marriage age for women to 21, so they have the same opportunities as men.

“But technology provides a practical and accessible way to help prevent it on the ground,” she said. (VOA)

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Ebola Increases The Number of Orphans in DRC: UNICEF

WHO reports progress is being made in limiting the spread of the deadly virus in some areas.

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A boy runs past a dispenser containing water mixed with disinfectant, east of Mbandaka, DRC. VOA

The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports a growing number of children in eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo orphaned by the Ebola outbreak in the region are at risk of stigmatization and abandonment.

UNICEF reports a number of children have died from the disease. Others, it says, have lost one or both parents to Ebola or have been left to fend for themselves while their parents are confined in Ebola treatment centers.

UNICEF spokesman, Christophe Boulierac, says his and other aid agencies so far have identified 155 children who have been orphaned or separated from their parents with no one to care for them. He says these children are extremely vulnerable.

Ebola Congo, WHO
Photo taken Sept 9, 2018, shows health workers walking with a boy suspected of having the Ebola virus at an Ebola treatment centre in Beni, Eastern Congo. VOA

“Children who lose a parent due to Ebola are at risk of being stigmatized, isolated or abandoned, in addition to the experience of losing a loved one or primary caregiver.”

Boulierac says UNICEF worries about the physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing of these orphaned and separated children. He says his agency is tailoring its assistance programs to meet the specific needs of each individual child.

“For instance, a new-born who has lost his mother has different needs than a school-aged child. Our support to an orphaned or unaccompanied child typically includes psycho-social care, food and material assistance, and support to reintegrate into school,” Boulierac said.

Ebola, WHO, UNICEF
Congolese health workers register people and take their temperatures before they are vaccinated against Ebola in the village of Mangina in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. VOA

Ebola was declared on August 1 in the DRC’s conflict-ridden North Kivu and Ituri provinces. This is the 10th outbreak in the DRC since Ebola was first identified in 1976. Latest estimates by the World Health Organization find 147 confirmed and probable cases of Ebola in the eastern part of the country, including 97 deaths.

Also Read: Progress Has Been Made in Containing Ebola In Congo: WHO

WHO reports progress is being made in limiting the spread of the deadly virus in some areas. But, it warns the epidemic is far from over and much work to combat the disease lies ahead. (VOA)