Third of Indian girls ‘marry in their early teens’

Almost a third of Indian girls marry in their early teens, British-backed campaigners for change said.

A partnership supported by Premier League football champions Manchester City is working to discourage the forced unions.

They can result in early pregnancy and jeopardise educational prospects.

A Mumbai-based non-profit called Magic Bus is attempting to tackle that using football training and positive messaging in the sprawling city of Bangalore in the south of the sub-continent.

Rupesh Desai, in charge of international partnerships, said: “We are trying to break the gender stereotype by working together.”

He said around 30% of girls married aged 13 or 14.

Their parents effectively force them into an early commitment, commonly with an older man.

Mr Desai added: “We have to make the parents understand and keep them onboard.

“When we tell parents that they need to allow their children to finish higher education, then you are tackling issues of early marriage.”

Magic Bus is working with Manchester City’s Cityzens Giving initiative which sends over sports equipment like hundreds of footballs as well as coaches to train young leaders.

Children take part in a game
Children take part in a game

The role models have already been chosen due to their shining track record in working with their peers.

The scheme’s authors believe effecting change works best when it is delivered from within the communities concerned.

Extra training involving Magic Bus and the Premier League football team enhances knowledge about child safeguarding and best practice in sometimes unpredictable surroundings.

This can involve ensuring coaching sessions are held within the marginalised communities which participants come from – forcing them to travel elsewhere can be difficult.

It reinforces the importance of dealing with germs and hygiene issues.

Leadership training of those aged 18-24 began two or three years ago.

Young leader Syed Chaman, 19, a commerce student, said: “Before Magic Bus girls were not being given any importance or priority, it was always for the boys.”

Parents did not allow girls to go outside the house or play with boys, he said.

“Now I know girls need equal opportunities to play and girls should be given equal rights to education.”

The young leaders did team-building exercises with volunteer City supporters.

They lined up on a sun baked-hard mud football pitch at a college in Bangalore, some balancing footballs expertly on their foreheads.

Another event involved being guided blindfolded between cones.

Despite the temporary loss of vision the competitive instincts of some shone through as they raced unsteadily for the finishing line with a chaperone guide.

Arun Nalvadi, director of sustainability and partnership at Magic Bus, said education was key to ensuring young adolescents of today become the productive youth of tomorrow.

“Football is gender-neutral, it is joyful and not complex.”

They had been very successful in encouraging children to go to school through football, he added.

“We use it as a medium of joy to stimulate and challenge them.

“They feel they can overcome challenges in their real life.”