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14-year-old fights back to stop child marriages 

14- year old Simpi Soni studies in class 9th, she belongs to a rural village in Barabanki district, Uttar Pradesh. She resides in a small house with her family, her father Shri Ram Yadav who is a farmer, mother Santra Devi a house maker and her three siblings.

 

For Simpi her father is a real motivation, the reason she joined Milaan’s Girl Icon program, an experiential leadership journey for adolescent girls with the passion and will to fight for their rights. Most girls in her village are engaged in domestic work but Simpi takes pride in the fact that she is not forced to do any household work which gives her ample time to study.

 

Her mother often places a lot of restrictions on her but her father continues to encourage her. When selected for the Girl Icon Program she had to leave her village for the residential training, her mother opposed the training but her father said “koshish nahi karogi toh pata kaise chalega (If you don’t try, how will you know) that’s all Simpi needed to hear and decided to make the best out of this opportunity to train herself as a role model and peer educator.

 

Simpi attended her first training in November 2018. As a part of the 2-year program, Girl Icons mobilize peer groups comprising of 20 girls each, work as peer educators to deliver life-skills curriculum every fortnight and take action on issues that bother adolescent girls in their community through social action projects. “The girls in my community are very friendly and soon after the first training I was able to make a peer group of 20 girls.”

 

Simpi’s confidence helped her establish a strong relationship and rapport with girls in her community. She ensured she provided safe spaces through the meetings for girls to interact, learn, share and grow together as a strong collective.

 

After she conducted her first peer meeting in the community, she was approached by a mother of two girls who was being forced into child marriage by their step-father. Both sisters aged 14 and 16 were forced to marry a 32-year-old man due to the debt their step-father was facing.

 

India has the highest absolute number of child brides in the world – 15, 509, 000- UNICEF 

 

The mother of these two girls was completely helpless and along with her daughters, they were undergoing abuse every day from the stepfather. They continued to try to get out of the situation but nothing seemed to work, at last, the mother decided to approach Simpi.

 

Child marriage can be seen across the country but it is far higher in rural than in urban areas. Girls from poorer families, scheduled castes and tribes, and with lower education levels are more likely to marry at a younger age.

 

It was then Simpi gathered all her courage and decided to help them, although she knew coming from a community she belongs to, it won’t be easy. Simpi along with her peer group took charge of the situation and decided to resolve this matter no matter what. All 21 girls together decided to stop child marriage and went to their house. Even after a persuasive dialogue, the father was not convinced to stop the marriage. Simpi then decided to seek help from the police who helped her succeed in her mission. The two girls now live with their mother separately, one has also joined her peer group and works for the rights of girls like herself, who are victims of child marriage.

 

 27% of girls in India are married before their 18th birthday. 7% are married before the age of 15.–UNICEF

 

For Simpi it is her mission to protect girls from social evils like child marriage that restrict their potential. Simpi has helped another girl in her community a 15-year-old who was forced into child marriage due to property dispute but this time Simpi was able to convince the girl’s father and helped him realise that child marriage is a crime. With Simpi’s persuasive efforts and dialogue, the father decided to stop the marriage.

 

So far Simpi had successfully stopped 3 child marriages in her community. She continues to be trained by Milaan as an exemplary grassroots girl leader who is using her voice, choice and power to fight for what is rightfully theirs.  “In the training we are taught so many things through interesting mediums like activities, movies, pictorial descriptions which makes learning much easier and this is what I love the most about training,” shares Simpi 

 

Talking about Simpi’s social competency, she is a keen listener and a smart observer. She has polished her knowledge around some core issues like rights, leaderships, sexual and reproductive health, gender roles, violence & safety etc not only girls but also women in the community seek help and advice from Simpi.

 

Simpi was recently felicitated in the state-level program- ‘Badi Si Asha- Sapnon ki koi seema nahi’ organized by Breakthrough. Her story of preventing three child marriages was selected as one of the winners of the ‘Most Impactful Stories’ by Breakthrough. A proud moment for everyone!

 

The Girl Icon Program has given me the courage to fight for the rights of girls and take a stand against injustice. I don’t doubt my capabilities anymore and I will be forever grateful to Milaan for helping me trust me and my abilities—Simpi Soni

 

 

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