Tag Archives: awareness

Fighting Child Marriage through Hygiene Awareness

By Sylvie Hughes

Gurgaon, India

5th November 2013

Child marriage in India affects a huge  portion of adolescent girls in the country.  With 47% of girls in India marrying below the legal minimum age of 18,  India has the highest number of child brides than any other nation in the world. 

However, despite its huge  number of illegal marriages, in October India refused to sign the first ever UN resolution against the practice of child marriage – an initiative which is being supported by 107 other countries worldwide.

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Child brides face a multitude of serious mental and physical health problems.  Young married  girls face problems of sexual and domestic abuse, causing high rates of severe depression.  Girls as young as 13 drop out of school once they get married, and as a result they are unable to continue their education or seek help. The section of society who are the most in need of education, health and hygiene awareness are unable to access  it. This leads to  an increase in serious health risks caused by early childbirth and lack of menstrual hygiene awareness.

Girls below the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s. With over 50% of adolescent girls in India suffering from anaemia, the increased blood supply demand during pregnancy causes even more of a strain on their health. According to the  National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), early marriage and adolescent pregnancies are one of the main causes of anaemia amongst girls in India.

Adolescent pregnancies are also one of the main reasons for infant deaths in hospitals. Children born to adolescent mothers are twice more at risk of neonatal mortality (death within the first month) than those born to older mothers, and the younger the mother, the higher the risk.  Many infants are born underweight due to the mother suffering from malnutrition and anaemia, which further increases the risk of health problems and death for the infant.

Educating girls in Menstrual Hygiene and healthcare can be a crucial element in reducing the number of child marriages in India. Access to Menstrual Hygiene awareness projects provide girls with knowledge on proper nutrition and hygiene practices to avoid suffering from anaemia on the onset of menstruation, as well as educating girls about the numerous health risks that are caused by early marriage. Increased awareness decreases not only the 23% school drop out rate from menstruation-related problems, but  also the number of girls entering into child marriage.

Preventing adolescent births have been proven to significantly lower population growth rates, improving the health of adolescent girls and potentially generating large economic and social benefits for the country as a whole.

HEEALS (Health, Education, Environment And Livelihood Society), is working on a Menstrual Hygiene awareness and Girl Education project in five states: Delhi (National Capital Region), Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Leh Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana. HEEALS works in slum schools, schools in unauthorised colonies, orphanages and refugee camps.  Through spreading education on Menstrual Hygiene and providing iron supplement tablets through our Free Health Camp initiative, HEEALS is working to eradicate the practice of child marriage and provide better futures for girls across India’s society. Find out more about its Menstrual Hygiene and Girl Education Project at www.heeals.org and support our work!

Stats Sources: UNICEF, PLAN India, NCPCR, UNFPA

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WASH in Indian schools: A national mission

Sanitation and hygiene issues in schools remain high on the development agenda in India, more than a decade after the start of the Total Sanitation Campaign, evidenced by the holding of the first WASH in Schools Leadership Course held in Delhi from 6-9 August. The course was organised by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS), the Administrative Staff College of India and UNICEF. More than 130 Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and Educational professionals from 25 states are reported to have participated. 
The course aims to increase the capacity of local and national actors working in WASH in schools (WinS) interventions under the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (Total Sanitation Campaign).

Although a lot of progress has been made under the TSC, there is still a lot of work to be done. As the Secretary of the MDWS, Mr. Pankaj Jain, stated, “WASH in Schools should be a National Mission”. At the moment, it is far beyond achieving success at a national level. Mr Louis George’s Arsenault, Representative, UNICEF, acknowledged WASH in Schools as a critical component of child-friendly education, contributing to a healthy and conducive learning environment and a significant reduction in absenteeism and dropout rates, especially among girls. “It also has an impact on enhanced primary school attendance, improved health and cognitive development, increasing girls’ participation in school,” he said.

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With WASH programmes still lacking in schools across India, HEEALS (Health Education Environment And Livelihood Society), based in Gurgaon, is trying to contribute towards a national mission by conducting WASH awareness in schools in slum areas and unauthorized zones where no other WASH agents are operating. HEEALS plans to carry out a Water Sanitation Menstrual Hygiene & Girl Education Awareness project across five different states of India including Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, New Delhi NCR Region and, Leh and Ladakh. The project aims to go into the interior parts of these states where water, sanitation and menstrual hygiene practice are far beyond the reach of most people. “The awareness project will be carried out in places where the dropout rate among girls in schools is high due to the non-availability of separate toilets and lack of awareness about sanitation and menstrual hygiene”, says HEEALS’ Managing Director, Gaurav Kashyap.

Without the work of civil society organisations such as HEEALS and support for their work, the realisation of WASH at a national level can only be aspirational.  Find out more about the work of HEEALS and offer your support at: www.heealsorg. Read the full UNICEF article at: http://www.unicef.org/india/reallives_8335.htm