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July 22, 2014

London toasts Bengal for helping girls study rather than marry

London toasts Bengal for helping girls study rather than marry

Written by Subrata Nagchowdhury (The Indian Express)

On Tuesday, a significant globalrecognition will come Bengal`s way with the government`s flagship project forgirls, Kanyashree Prakalpa, being presented at the Girl Summit 2014 in London,an event being jointly hosted by the UK`s Department for InternationalDevelopment and UNICEF.

Under the scheme, which offers separateincentives to girls under and over 18 to encourage them to study, those in theage group 13-18 and studying in classes VIII to XII in an institute affiliatedto the state government get an annual stipend of Rs 500, while girls 18 andover who are still studying without getting married get a one-time grant of Rs25,000.

The London summit, part of a globalmovement to end early and forced marriage, will bring together activists andrepresentatives of organisations from across the world. In Kanyashree, UNICEFis a lead technical partner with the government, said Sohini Roy Chowdhury, UNICEFcommunications officer in Kolkata, in an email response.

“It is a proud moment for the government,”Dr Sashi Panja, WCD Minister, says of the London event.

Kanyashreee Prakalpa, launched last year,has already enrolled 1.4 million girls in the 13-18 group, and for most of themthe bank passbook and the deposits are a new possession. Kanyashree-II hasgiven Rs 25,000 to each of 83,039 older, unmarried students, says SharmisthaDas, state joint secretary, women and child welfare. Both schemes are for girlswhose family income is Rs 1,20,000 or under, a condition waived for physicallychallenged girls or residents of social welfare homes and mental institutes.

Rojina Khatoon was six months old when shesuffered severe burns at her Kolkata home. She was in the lap of her mother,who was cooking, when the flames leapt up and injured both of them. Her mother,who worked as a domestic, ensured an education for Rojina, who is now in classX at Garden Reach Nutbehari Das Girls` High School. On August 14, Rojina willstart receiving the stipend of Rs 500. And if she studies two more yearswithout getting married, she will get the one-time grant of Rs 25,000.

Halima Khatoon of Class XI proudly showsher passbook, which records the first deposit of Rs 500 on October 1, 2013,followed by an interest of Rs 3. On December 7, she withdrew Rs 500 for herMadhyamik (class X boards) fees and to have her photographs clicked. “I did nothave to ask for the money from my father, who is a tailor,” says Halima, one offive daughters in a family that also includes a son. “I am not under anypressure to get married. My parents are encouraging me to complete my studies,earn Rs 25,000 and become a teacher.”

Sanghamitra Bhattacharya, assistant headteacher of Nutbehari Das Girls` High School, says: “This is known as a schoolof the have-nots. Over 85 per cent of the girls are from Muslim families, and amajority are daughters of daily wage earners, domestic helps and tailors. Witha little financial help, most of these families are now urging their daughtersto continue studying till at least age 18.”

Renuka Khatoon is in Class IX. Her fatherSheikh Mustafa is encouraged by the Rs 25,000. “We can then think of marryingher off. We have to keep in mind that if our girls are too educated, they willnot find a match.”

Minister Panja says the government`s nextstep will be a house-to-house survey on the implementation of the scheme andits impact. A subsequent mid-level survey will be taken up in collaborationwith UNICEF. The government plans budget provisions of Rs 417 crore for 2014-15and Rs 626 crore for 2015-16.

There are still bottlenecks. In some cases,formalities were completed long ago but bank passbooks have not been generatedyet. The government estimates that eventually 1.8 million girls will benefiteach year.

Chief Minister Ms Mamata Banerjee, who hassome repute as an artist, has designed the logo for Kanyashree project. Sheposted recently on Facebook: “Bengal`s unique Kanyashree Project has receivedinternational acclaim. It is indeed a matter of great pride and recognition forour innovative scheme.”

Image: WB CM giving away Kanyashree certificates to beneficiaries