For Sonam, an 18-year old with a two and a half-year-old child, memories of her school days are still vivid when she used to swing her bag and sing her favourite songs along with her friends all the way to school. She mentions that life then, was all about doing the things she liked the most; singing, dancing, chatting with her friends and if time permits, do a little bit of studying as well. This memory is responded with silence when we asked her about what stopped her from going to school.
For young women like Sonam, marriage is not a choice; it rather becomes a confirming submission to compelling social norms or be condemned as rebelling deviant if the choice is otherwise. Sonam was informed by her Father that her marriage had been arranged when she was busy preparing for her board exams – which eventually she never took. Even the decision to have or not have a child after marriage was not left to her – not even discussed. A child becomes an expected result of a marriage within a year to often prove the woman’s fertility. By delaying her pregnancy, especially the first, a woman stands the chance of losing her family besides her own dignity and respect in the society in this part of the world.
When asked if she resisted to the idea of marriage, she replied, “How can I? Nobody can and nobody would dare to do something like that even today. If parents ask you to get married, you have to get married. There is no choice here. There is no place for even the thought of resisting our traditions, customs and family values. Definitely not in my village.”
Recently while attending a locally organized meeting to commemorate the World Population Day in her village, she was informed about contraceptive choices for the first time. Sonam heard Doctors, Counsellors from Ujala clinic and community-level Nurses along with the Udaan Team from IPE Global explain to the women in her community about various contraceptive options available - especially about Antara – an injectable contraceptive. While discussing with the Counsellors later, she was able to further understand that these deliberate gaps between pregnancies made possible through the contraceptives, could help young married girls in the community to focus on building their career or engage in more financially lucrative activities.
When she came to know that this injection was available free of charge the nearby Community Health Centre, she hurried to get a dose of Antara immediately after the meeting and said, “I want to use it for a couple of years and then maybe we will think of having another child.” “Right now,” She continued, “my husband and I want to become financially stable and I am going to concentrate only on that during that time,”
Watching her suddenly become confident about her decisions, we asked whether she would have taken Antara had she known about it earlier when she had gotten married, her glance shifted to a child walking by from school as she said, “… and I would have probably been able to complete school as well, if only I had known earlier.”
As statistics record a staggering 40.5% of young girls in rural areas who get married during their teens in Rajasthan, the percentage indicating children to be stunted and underweight being born to illiterate mothers lofts to 44%. The consequence of this tryst in dynamics emerges when figures of school dropouts reach upward shifts as health-related issues become evidently rampant among pregnant women, lactating mothers and infants while snatching educational and economic opportunities these young adolescent girls could have had otherwise.
While intensive campaigning to promote contraceptives have started in Rajasthan, that alone, will not solve a problem that takes a much wider dimension especially when it comes to building the locus of control expected from individuals themselves to make an effective and sustainable change possible. Misconception about contraception is widespread and effective counselling and awareness creation by service providers have been initiated to counter it by boosting the level of conﬁdence among women towards making collaborated decisions around contraceptive choices – concepts that were far beyond reach for many, earlier.
These efforts to bring about a progressive change by adopting multi-component intervention strategies that seek to reduce early marriages and teenage pregnancies in order to ensure the right to education for the girl child is implemented by IPE Global Limited in partnership with the Government of Rajasthan supported by Children’s Investment Fund Foundation through Project Udaan.