Chief minister Arjun Munda releases a report of the Vistaar Project on Friday. (Hardeep Singh)
Ranchi, Nov. 2: Intervention of priests has helped in checking early marriage, especially among adolescent tribal girls in Jharkhand, a project funded by the US has revealed.
The Vistaar Project — a six-year, $25 million initiative introduced in 16 of the 24 districts of Jharkhand to provide technical assistance to programmes under National Rural Health Mission — had found that 17 per cent of girls below 18 were married off by their parents in 2006.
During a survey this year, the project discovered that the percentage of girls from tribal and SC families who were married below 18, the legally permissible age, had come down to 6.
Sponsored by United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the project is being run by IntraHealth International Inc. with the help of NGOs such as Vikas Bharti and Ekjut who have been working towards improving maternal and child health and nutrition in Jharkhand.
Manju Shukla, Jharkhand director, Vistaar Project, claimed their efforts had helped curb the rates of mother and infant deaths, improve quality of service and raise the number of safe deliveries with help from special birth assistants.
“Early marriage results in early pregnancies and closely spaced childbirth. So, we have sought help from priests of temples and requested them to insist on age certificate during marriage,” Shukla said.
Asked about the outcome, she said that the involvement of priests of famous temples such as Rajrappa and Itkhori helped restrict early marriages.
Madhuri Narayanan, country representative of IntraHealth International, said they focused on health workers at grassroots level as “they actually save lives”.
“We ask them to be present where they are supposed to be, ready when they are needed, connected to people and safe. We trained them to be special birth assistants and they translated their knowledge into practice,” she added.
“We have also sought help from maulvis in Garhwa district and it helped,” Narayanan said during a seminar attended by over 200 participants from NGOs and health department.
Chief minister Arjun Munda expressed happiness over the progress of the project, pointing out that several plans fail to attain their goals due to lack of motivation and sensitivity among those involved.
He lauded NGOs for working with dedication and urged them to raise awareness among the masses on health issues. Social welfare, women and child development minister Vimala Pradhan also praised the efforts of workers engaged in the Vistaar Project.
“We will draw up an action plan on the data made available to us by the Vistaar Project,” she added.
Elizabeth Warfield, deputy mission director, USAID India, informed that the project was carried out on the existing government structures and got impressive results in the field of delivery (of rural women) and newborn care.