24-year-old Shikha Jaiman is currently working as a Youth Accountability Advocate with Restless Development in Jaipur, India. Her work focuses on the issue of child marriage and on making adolescent girls and women more aware of menstrual hygiene and sexual and reproductive health.
“I feel that young people take the initiative to raise their voice and to bring their social issues before government and decision makers.
- Shikha Jaiman.
Restless Development partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to catalyse a global youth movement to promote youth-led accountability on Sustainable Development Goal 5 (Gender Equality) and Family Planning 2020 targets. As part of the project, youth accountability advocates from India and Tanzania conduct in- depth, data-driven research on specific targets of SDG 5 and Family Planning their communities. They use findings from their research to ensure increased youth-led accountability at the local, national and international forums
Child Marriages in India
India has the highest number of child brides in the world. According to figures released by
UNICEF, 27% of girls in India are married before their 18th birthday and 7% are married
before the age of 15. This situation is a result of the interplay of economic pressures,
traditional customs and religious norms, and a social order that generally views girls as
“less valuable” than boys. Despite the adoption of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act,
2006 which made marriage before the stipulated legal age a cognizable offense, the
practice continues to be rampant. According to the National Family Health Survey-4 (NFHS-
4, 2015-16), 27.8% of women aged 20-24 were married before the legal age of 18 years
and 20.3% men aged 25-29 were married before the legal age of 21 years.
Shikha, along with her peer changemakers, conducted interviews with young people to
understand their perception towards child marriage, their awareness of the child marriage
law and its provisions, and the effects of child marriage. She used a descriptive study
design which included both quantitative and qualitative data collection tools.
Shikha - Leading Change
Shikha was volunteering as a grassroots social activist with Nehru Yuva Kendra, a government-affiliated youth organisation, before she joined Restless Development. In this role, she interacted extensively with rural women and children and learned about the challenges they face, their aspirations and their expectations from institutional actors. “I acquired skills in conducting research and learned different methods for collecting data. I also developed the confidence to talk openly in front of large audiences in public places and
deliver sessions with young people
Being a Youth Accountability Advocate has opened up a lot of opportunities. “I am able to earn and support my family. I have also had the chance to meet various stakeholders such as community based organisations and government officials. I developed a deep understanding of the causes of child marriage, which is my accountability focus area. I also improved my research skills and learned how to collect data with a mobile app.”
Working with young people has inspired Shikha: “I believe that young people have a lot of energy and the motivation to do something for society, and just need some mentoring, support and guidance. Young people have very innovative ideas and can contribute towards the development of the nation”.
However, Shikha insists that young people need an enabling environment and adequate support to lead change in society. “They should be equipped with proper knowledge and skills in order to meaningfully participate in development. In Rajasthan, where I am working, young people need to be educated and to understand the importance of education. I firmly believe that education plays a significant role in the socio-economic development and cultural enrichment of society and individuals.”
“There are some primary issues related to education like the low enrollment of girls, a lack of female teachers and high dropout rates. These problems point to the need for improvements in the education system and for greater societal awareness.”