Ending child marriage in India
Girls in Bihar promoting the Bandhan Tod app (source: UNFPA)

Technological innovation ending child marriage and FGM

Child marriage is one of the most severe human rights violations existing in the world today. It prevents girls from becoming educated and enjoying a physiologically and physically healthy life. Child marriage is a root cause of obstetric fistula. Child brides are forced into sexual relations when their bodies are not yet ready for pregnancy and childbirth. The girl’s pelvis is too small to deliver a foetus: the unborn baby’s head passes through the vagina but its shoulders cannot fit through the mother’s pelvic bones.

Today, 700 million women were married as children. 

Although the numbers are overwhelming, new advancements have been made to combat child marriage using accessible technology. One of them is the Android app called Bandhan Tod (“Break Your Shackles”), created by network Gender Alliance in partnership with UNFPA in India’s Bihar State, where the rate of child marriage is 39%.

“Use of latest technology like a mobile app is probably the first of its kind in the country to fight child marriage,” Nadeem Noor, head of UNFPA in Bihar.

The application acts as a platform for girls to confidentially reach out to when they find themselves in cases of dowry, child marriage, domestic violence and gender inequality. The app has been downloaded more than 3,000 times since it launched in September. When a girl in a vulnerable situation activates an SOS through the app, an alert is sent to civil society partners in every district. They intervene at an average lead time of five minutes, and if it is not resolved the police will be called to step in.

The use of technology is making notable headway in gender equality in other parts of the world. In 2014, Esther Shena, a gender officer from Kajiado County government in Kenya set up a Whatsapp messaging service for the community to alert authorities when there is a suspected case of child marriage or FGM.

Girls Not Brides

According to Girls Not Brides, India has 26,610,000 cases of child marriage. Kenya has 482,000. There is a lot of progress to be made to secure the safety and livelihoods of these girls. The hope is that Bandhan Tod will be adopted across the state to rescue every girl in trouble and community members in Kajiado will raise more awareness to avert these social ills.

Technology is powerful.

But we cannot rely on it solely. We must continue to raise broad awareness on the harmful effects of child marriage. We must promote gender equality and the rights of girls to education. We must promote sexual and reproductive health and rights through community outreach and availability of services. And we must ensure protection for those girls who have escaped a forced marriage.

These girls’ shackles must be broken for their futures to be saved.

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