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The State of the World's Children 2004

The 'karate girls' of Bihar, India

© UNICEF/HQ03-0371/Vitale
Education saves and improves the lives of girls and women. It leads to more equitable development, stronger families, better services, better child health.

The connection between karate and girls’ education in Bihar – one of India’s most challenging states in terms of human development – is not immediately evident. But for Lalita Kumari, 18, both came together to change her life.

Lalita was attending the local Jagjagi or ‘Awakening’ centre – a day school for girls aged 9 to 15 and women from disadvantaged groups who have not attended or completed primary school. It provides basic literacy and numeracy lessons. Lalita was invited to attend an eight-month course at Mahila Shiksan Kendra, a residential centre that offers life skills training and the possibility of continuing on to secondary school to semi-literate girls and women. The school’s aim is to develop a pool of highly motivated women who will become community leaders. One tool is karate.

Lalita wanted to go to the centre, but her father believed that girls should stay at home.
The women at Mahila Shiksan Kendra persuaded him to let her attend by emphasizing its hygiene education.

The sense of empowerment is fundamental to the success of the Mahila Samakhya (translated as ‘Education for Women’s Equality’) programme, an integral part of Bihar Education Project.  Since its inception in 1992, the female literacy rate jumped from 23 per cent – the lowest rate in the country – to 34 per cent. The programme now covers 2,063 villages in 10 districts of Bihar.

Mahila Samakhya in Bihar emphasizes local women’s groups, of which there are now over 2,000 with a total of more than 50,000 members. One of the groups’ prime concerns is to ensure educational opportunities for their children, especially their daughters. The centres offer girls a fast track to education and empowerment.

Lalita now teaches karate. Her older brothers oppose this and think she should get married. But their father, now her biggest supporter, says that Lalita is the best behaved of all his children.



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Video feature: India

18-year-old Lalita Kumari lives in a remote village in northern India. Her parents were originally opposed to her attending school, so she attended classes secretly.
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A new government education initiative is bringing learning to rural areas. This boarding school provides a basic education to semi-literate 15- to 35-year-old women, many of whom continue on to secondary school.
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Karate is one of the more unusual subjects taught at the school. Karate gives girls self-confidence and the ability to protect themselves from harm. Lalita once attended classes here, and now teaches the sport.
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Lalita has become a role model for other girls in her community, and now earns money for herself and her family. Education continues to empower thousands of women across the region.
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