Naubat Baja (7733959595), a missed-call based edutainment channel, has been disseminating messages and information for the welfare of youth, adolescents and women, and recently Covid-19, in Rajasthan. Led by the fact that cell phones are a preferred mode of communication for youth, predominantly in areas with not much of access to entertainment through television, cable or the internet, the programme has been attacking deep-rooted menaces of child marriage and gender discrimination.
It is important to note that India has the largest number of child brides in the world – one-third of the global total – says the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF. According to UN estimates, each year, at least 1.5 million girls under 18 get married in India. Nearly 16 per cent adolescent girls aged 15-19 are currently married.
In a March 2021 report, UNICEF pointed out that about 100 million girls are at risk of child marriage over the next decade. The COVID-19 pandemic, the study said, has led to “school closures, economic stress, service disruptions, pregnancy, and parental deaths,” leaving a further 10 million vulnerable girls facing the possibility of child marriage.
One of these vulnerable girls is the star of a Naubat Baja poster. In her early teens, this minor school-going girl Jaipur was about to get married to a man in his 30s in June 2021. Before this could happen, a volunteer with Jeevan Ashram Sansthan (JAS), a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working on the empowerment of women and girls, dialled the number of Naubat Baja. The call soon led the police to the door of the family and the minor was sent to a shelter for two months. The girl is now back at her home and going to school.
Naubat Baja Missed Call Radio
Launched on International Women’s Day in 2019, Naubat Baja is a joint initiative of the Directorate of Women Empowerment, Government of Rajasthan, the Rural Electrification Corporation (REC) Foundation and UNFPA, with JAS as implementing agency.
The campaign relies largely on the strength of mobile phones, which now enjoy deep penetration in India and popularity among youth. Naubat Baja Missed Call Radio is a cloud telephone-based radio channel banking on the youth relaying messages on issues of adolescents’ well-being, empowerment and health in Rajasthan.
The cases of child marriages have seen a rise in the last two years due to the pandemic, as arranging a wedding meant less expenses because of restrictions on gatherings. With people leaving homes and travelling to distant areas in search of work, getting daughters married early also assured parents of their offspring’s safety.
A social evil not confined to Rajasthan, states like Karnataka have also reported a double increase in the number of child marriage cases in 2020-21. Experts blame poverty, lack of education, patriarchy and gender inequalities as other factors behind the prevalence.
How is Naubat Baja Different?
The programme gets its name from an ensemble of musical instruments played together in earlier times to catch the attention of people. A blend of music, entertainment and empowerment, Naubat Baja is not only to counter the practice of child marriage, but also to empower girls in other ways.
Girls have to simply call the number to get a call back. The call has a 15-minute recording of free entertainment, including Hindi film songs, short stories and audio dramas based on social issues narrated through comedy or satire. Then, there is news about job opportunities, general knowledge facts and information about government welfare schemes helpful for youth.
Messages on themes such as child marriage, domestic violence, adolescent girls’ health, menstrual hygiene, gender sensitisation, financial awareness, COVID-19 protocols and precautions are conveyed through the dramas.
The regularly updated programme is supervised by UNFPA representatives and produced by a professional content team of researchers and audio content makers in studios. The programme is popularised through social media, graffiti and awareness campaigns across the state by volunteers, community leaders, Panchayats, Anganwadis and ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) workers.
The Naubat Baja team now plans to get more partners to fight child marriages. Local frontline workers and members of youth networks like Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan (NYKS) are being trained to hold meetings and talks with teenage girls and their families on the messages promoted by the programme.
It is a difficult task, if one considers the latest government figures on child marriages.
According to the National Family Health Survey (2019-21), underage marriage in India accounted for 23.3 percent of marriages. A Bill to amend the law on child marriage has been referred to a Parliamentary Standing Committee.
In 2016, UNICEF, with UNFPA, launched the Global Programme to End Child Marriage in India and 11 other countries.