App comes to the rescue of Bihar schoolgirl

Patna
3 Dec 2017

Virtually left with no hope, a 13- year-old schoolgirl in a Bihar village sent out a distress message through a mobile app of a UN-backed platform that eventually saved her from becoming a victim of child marriage. "In the last week of November, we received an SOS from a girl in Darbhanga through our app who informed us that her parents were forcing her to get married.
"After verifying the complaint through our civil society partners, we immediately reached out to the DGP in Patna, who then informed the local police authorities," a senior official of Gender Alliance told PTI on the condition of anonymity. Patna-based Gender Alliance, an initiative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), had launched the Android- based app named 'Bandhan Tod' in September to sensitise people across the state against dowry, child marriage, domestic violence and gender inequality.
"Incidentally, the boy was also a minor (15). So, had it not been for this app, perhaps the two teenagers would have become victims of child marriage, spelling doom for both of them," the official said. "The app is in Hindi since we want to reach out rural areas, where the practice is more prevalent. It has an SOS button, which allows a potential victim to reach to us directly," she said.
The Gender Alliance recently carried out an analysis of data based on 2011 census of the country. "The analysis showed that for Bihar, the state average for predicted child marriage rate stood at 39 per cent," she said, adding, for the Benipur block, from where the girl hails, the "corresponding figure is 38.16 per cent". Benipur block is about 30 km out of Darbhangha district headquarters, which is located about 150 km from the state capital of Patna.
Benipur sub-divisional police officer Anjani Kumar, said technology, such as this app, can prove to be a boon in combating social evils like dowry and child marriage. "The moment we received the instruction from Patna police headquarters, we swung into action. We met the family members and convinced them against the idea of child marriage," he told PTI.
The SDPO also flagged that the area falls into the Mithilanchal region, where "child marriages have been happening in the community, across all castes, as a customary practice", and therefore, there is a need to educate and build awareness that it is "wrong and illegal". The Gender Alliance, now seeks to reach out to girls and women in distress, across the state, hoping that the Bihar government and district authorities would adopt the application to combat social evils. The app, among other features, offers a user Rs 100 in e-transaction, as an incentive, after it is downloaded.
"It also as a learning module, provided by the company that has developed the app for us. So, girls can download reading material from Bihar State Education Board curriculum, and also see lectures streamed online," the official said. "It also has details about Prohibition of Child Marriage Act and various related schemes of the state government, like the Mukhayamantri Kanya Vivah Yojana," she added. The Nitish Kumar ministry has started a statewide campaign against dowry and child marriage. The Gender Alliance is seeking patronage from the Bihar government so that the app can reach out to people across the state.
"On December 5, we are hosting a programme in Madhepura district, where the district magistrate, senior officials of the education department and women's development corporation would be present, besides a large number of local students," the official said. "We will explain the utility of the app to them, and encourage them to include contact numbers of appropriate authorities, so that people can also reach out to them in times of distress," the official said. (PTI)