Mumbai: Nine girls from remote Maharashtra were today given United Nations Children`s Fund (UNICEF) Navjyoti awards for resisting child marriages and also helping other girls fight the scourge.
"Navjyoti is a state-level platform to showcase the achievements of young women, who go on to play a greater role by turning into role models for their peers and catalysts of change in their communities," UNICEF Chief, Mumbai, Rajeshwari Chandrasekar said here today.
Fifteen-year-old Sunita Wachami from the Maoist-hit district of Gadchiroli thwarted all efforts to marry her off, to achieve her dreams of becoming an IPS officer.
When by her elder brother and sister asked Sunita to choose between getting married and enlisting as a Maoist, she chose education instead.
"I refused to drop out of school. I told them I wanted to complete my education and become an IPS officer," Sunita said.
She now studies in Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya, a government-run residential school for vulnerable girls in Bhamragad.
Another girl, Asha Tonde, a class 10 student and budding wrestler, came all the way from Kedarbasti village in Parbhani district to Mumbai, to receive the award.
16-year-old Asha, who is one of the four children of farm labourers, was deeply affected by the plight of her siblings who were married off at an early age and it made her determined to seek a better life through education.
"From a very young age I was certain that I didn`t want to disrupt my education by marrying before 18 years. I had seen what had happened to my older siblings. So, when a marriage proposal came for me last Diwali, I immediately protested. I have dreams of becoming an IPS officer someday," Asha said.
Some of these young girls not only fought for their rights to education, but also motivated other girls in their village to make it a mass movement.
Seventeen-year-old Madhuri Pawar is among the first girls in Nivdunga village, Jalna, to reach Class 12.
She got the youth of her village to build a road and start a bus service.
"I led a protest campaign that compelled district authorities to send a bus to our village, due to which 20 girls from Nivdunga and four surrounding villages go to school and as a result, not a single child marriage has taken place this year," a happy Madhuri said.
Similarly, 18-year-old Roshna Maraskolhe from Hiwardara village in Yavatmal, not only resisted her own child marriage but stopped many other underage girls in her village from being married off.
When her relatives tried to arrange her wedding in 2012, she threatened to call the police and send the groom to jail.