The 10th edition of the “Race of Saints” was held in Rome on November 1st, All Saints Day, a sporting event in which professional athletes, amateurs and fans, young and old, participated in 3 races in a show of solidarity for a worthy cause.
The “Don Bosco in the World” Foundation that organizes the event wants to draw attention this year to the child brides of India who are forced to marry adult men, with serious health and psycho-physical consequences. The foundation will sent the fund raised by this year’s “Race of Saints” to the Salesians of Don Bosco of the Province of Bangalore, active in the southern state of Karnataka, who have been working to help child brides who are denied their childhood and rights.
India has highest number of child brides
According to the international global partnership, ‘Girls Not Brides’, India has the highest number of child brides in the world. It is estimated that 47% of girls in India are married before their 18th birthday, with rates as high as 69% and 65% in Bihar and Rajasthan. Don Bosco in the World Foundation cited the Karnataka state Commission for the Protection of Children’s Rights, saying 23% of the entire country’s early marriages involving child brides take place in the southern state.
Salesians fighting Child Marriage
The Bangalore Rural Education And Development Society (BREADS), a non-profit development organization of the Salesian Province of Bangalore, runs a children’s project called, “Child Rights Education and Action Movement”, or CREAM, which also helps fight the practice of child labour and child marriage. BREADS will utilize the fund raised by the “Race of Saints” for its programme for child brides.
The “Race of Saints” is part of a wider fund-raising effort from Oct. 27 to Nov. 6, involving mobile phone operators and several other sponsors.
To know about the deeply entrenched social practice of child marriage, we spoke to Salesian Father Joy Nedumparambil, the Executive Director of BREADS. Talking to us from Bangalore, Fr. Joy Nedumparambil explained how the CREAM project is combatting child marriage.
Fr. Joy Nedumparambil began by explaining that it is part of a culture where parents marry off their daughters before they are 15years of age and boys before 21, despite legislation against the practice. He noted that 41% of girls in Karnataka are married off before 18, while working or studying.
What we do
Fr. Joy explained how through a 3-prong strategy of their CREAM project, the Salesians are fighting the scourge of child marriage. Firstly, they create awareness among the children about its evils. They also train parents, the community and other stakeholders such as teachers, employers, local government bodies and others about child marriage and the country’s laws against it. And lastly, children who are formed in the child rights clubs of the Don Bosco institutions and schools all over Karnataka, are the first to act against child marriage.
When they come to learn that one of their companions or friends is getting married, they discuss the matter in their clubs and go the concerned families to stop it. If needed, they themselves call the toll-free 24-hour child helpline (1098) that is active all over India, to get government authorities to address issues of child rights violation, including child marriage.
CREAM vs Child Marriage
Fr. Joy Nedumparambil noted the success of CREAM project has achieved in this regard. Through the project, children themselves prevented 215 cases of child marriage through their child rights clubs. The Salesian priest said it is because of the training the children received in the clubs that they became pro-active in preventing child marriage.