Thangam has his heart in the right place. The Country Manager of Terre des Hommes in India, together with his team, stands up for young married girls. "This is a forgotten group; among other things, we provide education and teach them about their rights".
Although the number of child marriages in India is decreasing, 1.5 million girls still marry before their eighteenth birthday each year. The Karnataka region accounts for a large proportion of these marriages, which are often contracted out of poverty and tradition.
Thangam, Country Manager for Terre des Hommes India and Nepal: "The government and various organisations are working to reduce this terrible phenomenon - which is forbidden by law - but little attention is paid to married girls. Officially these marriages do not exist and therefore these girls fall between the cracks. This makes me extra driven to stand up for them."
Thangam does that through the Terre des Hommes program IMAGE. The main goal of IMAGE is to make young married girls aware of their rights so that they can better stand up for themselves and the chance of exploitation and abuse decreases.
Thangam: "With this unique program we uncover serious problems such as domestic violence, early school leaving, forced sex, health and reproductive issues, hard work and social isolation. But not only do we make the dangers of child marriages visible, we also offer concrete help".
"Already 3,077 girls have benefited from protection, education, legal, psychological and medical assistance. Girls are also educated about their rights, involving spouses and the community for more support. We also have a girls' club where girls can share their experiences. In addition to this concrete help, we lobby the government for their rights and (financial) assistance".
One of the special moments in his work for Terre des Hommes was the day that seven girls could still do their final exams thanks to the IMAGE programme. "I felt so proud that they managed to finish their school, one of the girls was already a mother and pregnant with her second child. The great thing was that her husband supported her. We stood up for the right to education and also made the families of these girls understand how important education is for a better future!"
Thangam continues to fight for a better future for these young married girls: "Although we face enough challenges... Child marriages are still socially accepted and due to issues such as gender inequality and extreme poverty, young girls continue to get married on a large scale".
Fortunately, Terre des Hommes is not alone in her fight against child marriages, we do this together with other partners and the Indian government wants to eliminate this phenomenon before 2030.
On 10 February 2021, Mr. Thangaperumal Ponpandi was elected as the Co-chair of South Asia Coordinating Group on Action against Violence against Children (SACG).
The South Asia Coordinating Group on Action against Violence against Children (SACG) brings together United Nations agencies, international non-governmental organizations and other actors working at the regional level for child rights and protection in South Asia.
A development professional with almost 20 years of experience in the sector, Mr. Thangaperumal has managed Child Protection programmes across Asia focusing on Child Trafficking and Migration, Child Abuse and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of children.