The elimination of child marriage is imperative for India to achieve its MDGs as child marriage results in school dropout, early conception and high risks of maternal mortality, low birth-weight babies and often initiates the vicious cycle of under-nutrition and anaemia. West Bengal reported the fifth highest prevalence of child marriage amongst all states with 54.7% currently married women (aged 20–24) being married before 18 and 57.9% for rural young women (DLHS-3; 2007-08).
Kanyashree Prakalpa (KP), a universal social protection scheme, is an important step taken by the Government of West Bengal (GoWB) to prevent child marriage and promote girls’ education. In order to reverse the trend of child marriage, KP was created in 2013 as a conditional cash transfer (CCT) scheme for girls to provide them with two conditional financial benefits: 1) an annual scholarship of INR 500 for 13–18 year old girls enrolled in Grades VIII-XII or equivalent and are unmarried at that time and 2) a one-time grant of INR 25,000 to girls who are 18 based on certain conditionalities.
Comprehensive technical support for the formulation of the scheme guidelines, implementation mechanism, management information system (MIS), grievance redressal and communication strategy has been provided by UNICEF – West Bengal. The scheme is implemented by the Department of Women and Child Development and Social Welfare in convergence with 13 other departments and the National Informatics Centre (NIC).
Field level data validation reveals that KP has had a positive impact on boosting girl children’s aspirations and reinforcing their parents’ desire to have them educated. Within the first year of implementation, the scheme has covered 1,943,403 beneficiaries; of these, the coverage of SCs (23.2 percent), STs (5.7 percent) and minorities (24.3 percent) for the annual scholarship is approximately proportional to their population, according to the scheme’s MIS. KP Clubs have been formed across the state and discussions around and disapproval of early marriages are reported to have increased. KP’s robust governance structure and convergence with other departments and NIC are key to its implementation.