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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)

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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UNICEF: ‘Education Under Fire’, Militant Attacks on Afghan Schools Tripled in 2018

More than 1,000 schools across the country remain closed because of security threats from groups

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UNICEF, Education, Afghan Schools
In this April 5, 2017 photo, Afghan students attend school classes in an open air primary school on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan. VOA

Attacks on schools in Afghanistan increased almost threefold last year, making it increasingly difficult to ensure an education for children in many parts of the country, the United Nations children’s fund UNICEF said on Tuesday.

The agency, which promotes education and children’s rights, said the number of attacks against Afghan schools jumped from 68 in 2017 to 192 last year. It was the first time since 2015 that a rise in attacks had been recorded.

“Education is under fire in Afghanistan,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “The senseless attacks on schools; the killing, injury and abduction of teachers; and the threats against education are destroying the hopes and dreams of an entire generation of children.”

More than 1,000 schools across the country remain closed because of security threats from groups such as the Taliban and Islamic State, which have sought soft targets for attacks aimed at extending and consolidating their influence through intimidation.

UNICEF, Education, Afghan Schools
Attacks on schools in Afghanistan increased almost threefold last year. Pixabay

Although the Taliban have shifted from their previous opposition to all forms of girls’ education, they have faced regular accusations of shutting down schools run in a way they do not approve.

UNICEF said the use of school buildings as voter centers during last year’s parliamentary election may have been a factor behind the rise in attacks.

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Afghanistan has a young and fast-growing population but about 3.7 million children, or nearly half of all school-age children, are not in formal education, UNICEF said. (VOA)