United Nations Children's Fund
NEW YORK, NEW YORK (UNICEF (press release)) - Their worlds could hardly be more different – Shakira, the pop superstar and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, 34, independent, sassy, a household name – used to the glitz and glamour of the world stage. And a group of poor, young Rajasthani girls – four of them already married off before they turned 11; all of them the first females in their families ever to be educated.
First it was all sweetness and smiles for the diminutive megastar, draped in garlands of marigolds and blessed with the traditional tika. The girls performed for the performer, but the essence of the visit was serious and stark.
“Many of them get married really young and that is part of their culture, though it’s not legal in India, sometimes we can’t fight culture but we can fight poverty,” said Shakira.
In a country where nearly half of all girls are married before they’re 18, Rajasthan has one of the highest numbers of child brides in India with 74 per cent of girls getting married off before they turn 18. The cause is complex but the low value of girls have in society is largely to blame; the burden of dowry and poverty is another curse. Girls themselves are seen as a liability, the property of their in-laws, so the drop-out rate from school remains high.
An equity approach
Shakira’s aim as a global megaphone for education is to convince the powerful and mighty of the inherent dividend of educating girls.
“Girls’ education is proving to increase economic growth and it is proven that every year of investment in primary education on girls generates or increases the income in wages in their future lives by ten to twenty percent, its usually five percent more than for boys - and every year in secondary education, it increases their wages, when they are adult by 25 per cent I think - so it is a good deal for the state to invest in their education especially because they grow fast, kids grow fast - and they will bring returns to the state, so it’s not charity, it’s an investment,” she said.
The girls were from the Kasturba Gandhi Ballika Vidalaya (KGBV) residential education scheme outside Udaipur. In a country of deep paradoxes and divisions along class, caste, tribe and gender, the KGBV programme, supported by UNICEF, essentially adopts an equity approach by aiming to keep girls in residential schools, in their most vulnerable years of 11-14, where they’re educated, fed, clothed and cared for in a safe environment.
In hostel schools, the first generation of girls in their communities are getting an education are less likely to drop out of school , less likely to be forced into labour and more likely to be healthy and later have healthy children. Much hope is pinned on India’s Right to Education Act bringing about change faster and boosting a new generation of learners and girls.
Life still on the edge
For four of the girls who met Shakira, their lives are still on the edge though. None of them were even 14 years old, but all of them are already married. And although they’ll only go and live with their young husbands and in-laws once they reach puberty, they said they felt robbed of choice:
“We are still kids but land up having children, we can't even finish our studies, it feels bad,” said 13-year-old Santosh Gadri who was married at 10 at the same wedding ceremony as her older sister to save costs. Santosh had dropped out of school at the time but since she was enrolled in the KGBV school in Mavli block, district Udaipur, she’s started to flourish.
Ironically, despite all, all four of the girls dream big dreams – all wanted to become doctors and teachers but were aware that for now, those were just that, dreams. Meeting the mega star, a young woman who made it big, and mimicking her moves boosted the girls, beyond their dreams, knowing that Shakira will use her voice to talk about their lives on the global stage.
Copyright 2014 UNICEF (press release)
Updated 1126 days ago Article ID# 1319899
United Nations Children's Fund