Agents of Change


This Child Protection Unit (CPU) in a community we serve in Bijapur, Karnataka, has stopped many child marriages and has found solutions to several problems faced by the children, which were never addressed before.

 Safety First

This Child Protection Unit (CPU) in Aheri, Bijapur, has become a catalyst for change, by turning the rampant child marriage cases in their community, a thing of the past. Right from 2012, when it was formed, the CPU has stopped many child marriages and have found solutions to several problems faced by the children, which were never addressed before.

A CPU functions at the village level to reduce the vulnerability of children and protect their rights. Its members include active participants of the children’s club, Village Development Committee (VDC) members, women of Self-Help Groups (SHGs), Anganwaditeachers, ASHA workers, Panchayat representatives etc.

It was 24thof the month. All the CPU members gathered at the temple premises, their usual meeting point. 24thday of every month is kept apart for the meeting, as the CPU was formed on that day, six years ago. Every member turns up on time without fail and the meeting goes on for one or two hours. They discuss important matters of the month and plan solutions. When the topic has chances for arguments, they argue and arrive at conclusions. Men, women, youngsters and children put forward their suggestions and opinions, and every input counts regardless of the person’s age or gender. It is evident that they have taken the ownership of addressing the problems their community face and have decided to change it.

“Though it was a challenging task for the CPU initially, all the members stood together to bring awareness among the villagers. Few years ago, we received invitations for a 16-year-old girl’s wedding. Her father wanted her and her elder sister to be married off together. The CPU members intervened and the wedding was called off. Later, the girl was allowed to continue her studies. She completed her degree and is happily married now,” says SangangowdaPatil(48), President of the CPU.

“On another occasion, a girl’s father went ahead till the wedding day, despite all the warnings from the CPU. They were not willing to give up and finally, we had to interrupt the wedding,” he said.

The CPU has dramatically intervened in at least three or four such cases. The weddings were cancelled every time. Slowly people began to realise that marrying off their girls before they reach maturity will no longer be possible. “Child marriage was nothing new to our community. Hence people never related it as something wrong. It is only after the CPU members began taking extreme steps like cancelling weddings, people realised that child marriage is a violation of child rights and that it is punishable,” says BabuYambathnal(38), secretary of the CPU.

Now, no girls in this community are married off before they turn 18; instead all of them are sent to school and some of them are working too.

According to the Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (KSCPCR), the state accounts for 23.2% of child marriages in the country. The practice is prevalent in almost all districts. As per District Level Household and facility Survey 4(DLHS 4), 24.2% of all the married women in Bijapurwere married before 18 years. Karnataka has been ranked third in terms of the number of cases registered under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 during the last three years, as per National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). Furthermore, the National Family Health Survey 4 (NFHS 4) revealed that 8% of women in the age group 15-19, have already begun childbearing, that is, they have already had a live birth or are pregnant with their first child.

“After the CPU became active in our community, people are more aware about child marriage, importance of education and child protection. The CPU has become a body that checks the violation of all these. It has been really beneficial to our children and community as a whole,” says KamalabhaiSathihal(42), another member of the CPU.

Sangangowda, President of the CPU went on to speak about few more interventions of the unit. “In 2015, one of our members, Drakshani, noticed that the quality of food given in the government school here was not very good. She informed the authorities about it. When no action was taken, she managed to gather students in the school and conducted a protest in front of the Block Education Office. Soon after that, an inspection was conducted in the school. Our children are getting good food now.”

The CPU was also successful in finding a solution to the transportation problem that their children faced. Many of their older children study in schools and colleges that are far from the village. Since there were no buses in the evening, the children used to reach home very late after school. The CPU members complained to the concerned authorities regarding this and a bus service was started at 4 PM in the evening. “It is mostly children who travel by the bus. Since all the children are eligible for a concession in the travel fare, the service has not been very profitable; but still it has been on since the last few years,” says Sangangowda.

When the meeting got over, I went on to meet Santoshimatha(16), the youngest member of the CPU. She is an active member of the Children’s Club in the community and has been a sponsor child since the last 15 years. She became a CPU member over a year ago. On being asked about her experiences, she said, “As a CPU member, now I am a messenger to other children. At the children’s club meetings, I try to tell whatever I learned from the CPU, so that other children are also aware about it. Because of this CPU in our community, most of the children are aware about child marriage, abuse and other hidden dangers that children face. All of them know that they can call 1098 (childline) if something happens to them or their friends.”

This CPU in Aheri, is a perfect example for the changes possible through grassroot-level interventions. World Vision India has been working in this community for more than 15 years. Our SHGs, Children’s clubs and VDCs along with the CPU here, have been successful in bringing progress to the community in various areas like education, health, child protection and livelihood.

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