Rome’s “Race of Saints” focuses India’s child brides

India has the highest number of child brides in the world.

Rome: The child brides of India were the focus of the “Race of Saints,” an annual sporting event held in Rome on November 1, the All Saints Day.

The “Don Bosco in the World” Foundation that organized the event this year wanted to draw attention to India’s young girls who are forced to marry adult men, with serious health and psycho-physical consequences.

This year marked the tenth edition of the race where professional athletes, amateurs and fans, young and old, participated in 3 races in a show of solidarity for a worthy cause.

The foundation will send this year’s collection to the Salesians’ Bangalore province that covers the southern Indian states of Karnataka and Kerala. The Salesians there try to help child brides who are denied their childhood and rights, Vatican Radio reported

According to the international global partnership, ‘Girls Not Brides,’ India has the highest number of child brides in the world. It is estimated that 47 percent of girls in India are married before their 18th birthday. In states such as Bihar and Rajasthan, the rates were 69 percent and 65 percent.

Don Bosco in the World Foundation cited the Karnataka state Commission for the ‎Protection of Children’s Rights, saying 23 percent of India’s marriages involving ‎child brides take place in the southern state.

The Bangalore ‎Rural Education And Development Society (BREADS), a non-profit development organization of the Bangalore province, runs a children’s project called, “Child ‎Rights Education and Action Movement,” or CREAM.

It helps fight the practice of child labor and child marriage.

The “Race of Saints” is part of a wider fund-raising effort from Oct. 27 to Nov. 6, involving mobile phone operators and several other sponsors.

Salesian Father Joy Nedumaparambil, executive director of BREADS, explained that the child marriage is part of a culture where parents marry off their daughters before they are 15 and boys before 21, despite legislation against the practice. He noted that 41 percent of girls in Karnataka are married off before 18, whether studying or working.

The priest explained the CREAM project uses a 3-prong strategy to fight child marriage, which he calls a scourge. First, they create awareness among children about evils of child marriage. They train parents, the community and others such as teachers, employers, local government bodies and others about child marriage and the country’s laws against it.

In the third state, the project forms child rights clubs of the Don Bosco institutions and schools all over Karnataka to act against child marriage.

“When they come to learn that one of their companions or friends is getting married, they discuss the matter in their clubs and go to the concerned families to stop it. If needed, they call the toll-free 24-hour child helpline (1098), that is active all over India, to get government authorities to address issues of child rights violation, including child marriage.

Father Nedumaparambil noted the success their CREAM project has achieved in this regard. Through the project, children prevented 215 cases of child marriage through their child rights clubs. The Salesian priest said it is because of the training the children received in the clubs that they became pro-active in preventing child marriage.

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