Sixteen-year-old Neeta Bijule from Partur block in Jalna is a role model for the girls in her district. A shy but confident Bijule, who was determined to go against prevalent norms which ensure that girls are married off at an early age said, “My mother is a victim of child marriage. She had a dream to see me educated and self-reliant. I want to fulfill her wish. Marriage can wait.”
Early last year, when she was barely 15-years-old, her family arranged her marriage to a much older man.
Bijule who had studied about the dire consequences of child marriage stood up to her family. Her family tried to pressurise her and even threatened to cut her off. Bijule, who is committed to studying further, formed a group along with other girls from her village to resist child marriages and educated her family.
There are several other unsung heroes like Bijule. The UNICEF has identified nine girls from nine districts in Maharashtra who stopped child marriages. Neeta Bijule, Reshma Pathan, Achal Bagde, Sunita Pole, Pali Pallo, Pallavi Kamble, Vaibhavi Ulmale, Dhurprata Ghornade and Sangita Vasave will be bestowed with the Navjyoti Awards on Thursday.
Pali Pallo, 18, from Gadchiroli resisted marriage when she was 17-years-old.
“My parents were forcing me to get married because the family was going through financial difficulties and I was the eldest daughter. But I wanted to study further. I resisted the marriage and they disowned me,’’ said Pallo, who wants to become a language teacher.
Almost half the girls in Maharashtra’s countryside marry and have children while they are still teenagers. A cycle of malnutrition and illness that affects their children follows. Pallavi Kamble, 17, from Latur wanted to break this cycle.
“I was just 15 years old when I was pressurised into getting married. I refused to do so and continued with my studies. Because of this, my my younger sister was inspired to do the same,’’ said Kamble.