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Early Marriage, Young People, and Empowerment

Nirantar’s engagement with the issue of early marriage probes the surface of commonly articulated reasons for child marriage, such as poverty, dowry and traditional practices. We seek to explore and analyse the nature of decisions around marriage which reinforce and reproduce structures of gender, class, caste, religion, and patriarchy. Young people’s sexuality, desires, and aspirations are strongly governed according to these structures, by families, communities, and the state.

For young people, age acts as an axis of power and agency, and they find themselves disempowered in making decisions around their own lives. This also affects their engagement in other spaces they access, such as community, school, university, government services, labour markets, etc. Given the root causes of early and child marriage and the impact these have on the lives of young people, we feel that the need of the hour is to engage on the issue from a feminist, political, youth-centric and empowerment-oriented approach. Young people’s agency and ability to access their rights can be recognised and strengthened through such an approach.

Interventions

Our current work around early marriage and young people builds on our learning from the landscape analysis through three distinctive strategies:

Research: The ‘Landscape Analysis of Early and Child Marriage in India’ initiated Nirantar’s engagement with the issue of early marriage, child, and forced marriage. You can download the report here:
Early and Child Marriage in India - A Landscape Analysis
Summary Report: Early and Child Marriage in India - A Landscape Analysis

We conducted a study across seven states, namely Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, and New Delhi, in consultation with over 50 organisations and key informants. Through this study, we analysed the issue of early and child marriage from the lens of gender and sexuality to identify its root causes and enabling factors. We found that largely the issue has been approached from a ‘child protection’ lens.

Action Research: Through our action-research project, we are exploring the possibilities of enabling empowering spaces for young people to critically understand their lived realities, using diverse methods available within the approach of participatory action research. Among these, we are focusing on the techniques from Augusto Boal’s ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’ to understand and facilitate what concerns young people, influences their desires and forms their aspirations.

Through this process, we seek to create open and safe spaces for conversations and collective knowledge building around themes of caste, sexuality, gender, religion, ethnicity, and migration that shape the everyday lives of young people and the communities they live in. This research hopes to articulate the possibilities of young people’s voices and agency, not only in wider society but also within the development sector and civil society working with them. Taking a feminist lens, thus, helps us recognise, understand and articulate the root causes behind the issue, breaking the tendency to look at issues in isolation, away from structural realities and contexts. 

Capacity Building: We have worked closely with grassroots organisations across 6 states, namely Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and New Delhi, to build capacities of fieldworkers working on early and child marriage. Through these intensive trainings and workshops, we seek to identify and articulate issues of gender and sexuality as part of their work with young people.

We support organisations through their participation in regular institutional courses conducted by Nirantar, and through theme-based workshops designed to cater to the specific needs of each organisation, to help them address specific field-level challenges in their work with young people. 

Advocacy: We attempt to create space for issues of gender and sexuality within global, regional, national and grassroots discourses around early and child marriage. Over the past few years, we have participated at forums in and around the United Nations, specifically Committee on Status of Women, and focused advocacy around the United Nations Resolution on Child, Early and Forced marriage (CEFM).

Additionally, we have participated and advocated for a youth-centric approach that focuses on the ‘root causes’ of the issue at various international forums. We have also reached out to existing networks around Adult Education that Nirantar is a part of, to highlight the role that non-formal, adult education can play as a strategy to address issues of Early and Child Marriage.