Four teenaged girl students of Bihar were Sunday honoured for their courage in resisting the family’s pressure to marry before turning 18.

School students Gudiya Kumari, Puja Kumari, Sonam Kumari and Priyanka Kumari were conferred the Gender Alliance’s Bandhan Tod awards, under its campaign against child marriage and dowry in Bihar.

“We have awarded these girls for standing against child marriage without any help from outside,” said Prashanti Tiwary of Gender Alliance, an initiative of United Nations Population Fund, adding that they refused to marry so as to pursue their education and also convinced their families. “They are real champions.”

The four girls also shared their personal stories and experiences at a function. “I refused to marry despite repeated pressure by my parents and forced them to allow me to complete my schooling. Now I will decide when to marry after completing Class 12 at least,” said Sonam.

Puja Kumari said that when her mother informed me to be ready to get marry, she protested vocally. “I stopped eating food and threatened to inform my school authorities that my parents are forcing me for child marriage. This has changed my life and I was lucky to allow to study,” he said.

The Gender Alliance, a collective effort of over 270 civil society organisations, has been working for over a year in the state on the issue of child marriage, following Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s appeal.

Through the Bandhan Tod campaign, the Gender Alliance seeks to reach out to millions of people, especially young boys and girls, for ending child marriage and dowry.

Nitish Kumar is set to launch a massive state-wide campaign against these two evils fron Mahatma Gandhi‘s birthday (October 2).

“It is going to be a biggest-ever campaign against child marriage and dowry. Bihar is probably the first state in the country that will launch a drive to eradicate these two social evils,” said N Vijaylakshmi, Managing Director of the Women Development Corporation, which will manage the campaign.

Vijaylakshmi also assured all help to the four girls awarded on Sunday and suggested that they be made case studies and icons to encourage other girls.

The problem of child marriage is rampant in Bihar, particularly in rural areas, despite laws against it. Ironically, it particularly affects the vulnerable population of Dalits, OBCs and Muslims due to low literacy rates and other factors including poverty.