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UNICEF India ropes in Assam’s Nahid Afrin to fight against child marriages

Munni Begum/Guwahati

Assam’s Nahid Afrin first shot to fame when she became the second runner up in the 2015 edition of Indian Idol Junior. In 2016, she made her debut as a playback singer in Bollywood with the film Akira starring Sonakshi Sinha in the lead role.

Nahid Afrin had recently been appointed as UNICEF India’s Youth Advocate marking a significant milestone in her career. Nahid along with three other Youth Advocates will work with Bollywood’s star actor Kareena Kapoor-Khan, who is named as the National Ambassadors by UNICEF.

Besides Nahid, UNICEF India has also appointed its first-ever Youth Advocates – Gauranshi Sharma from Madhya Pradesh, Kartik Verma from Uttar Pradesh and Vinisha Umashankar from Tamil Nadu. They will work to champion critical issues such as climate action, mental health, innovation, and Girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).

Nahid and other UNICEF advocates with Kareena Kapoor-Khan

In an exclusive interview with Awaz-The Voice Assam Nahid Afrin shared her experience, thoughts, and her new job as Youth Advocate of UNICEF India. Below are excerpts of the interview.

You have recently been selected as a Youth Advocate by UNICEF India. You will get the opportunity to work with the Bollywood actress Kareena Kapoor. Why have you been selected for this responsibility? What will be your new role?

First of all, I would like to thank everyone who has sent me messages of greetings and blessings. I would also like to thank UNICEF India for selecting me as their Youth Advocate. I would like to share with you a small incident that happened in 2018 when UNICEF India selected me as the ‘Child Rights Champion’ for the North East. I took that responsibility and worked with UNICEF India on behalf of Assam for two years. At the time, I was working on child marriage. I have also made many efforts to create awareness against child marriage in different parts of Assam.

 In 2018, UNICEF organized a program on child marriage in the Assam Assembly. The then Speaker of the Assembly presented a report on the negative impact of child marriage in society and discussed how it can be addressed. I was involved with anti-child marriage activities and campaigns till 2020.  In 2023, I received a call from the UNICEF India Regional Office informing me that I had been nominated as their Youth Advocate. They have nominated me and a very few other young people like me from different states of India for this post. After that we had a one-year workshop and they gave me this responsibility for Assam.

Nahid Afrin singing on the stage

When we talk about UNICEF, we usually understand that it is an international organization working for the mental and physical development of children. As a youth advocate, how will you focus on addressing the various issues faced by children, especially girls?

I have been associated with the problem of child marriage in Assam for the last few years. And now that I have been selected by UNICEF as their Youth Advocate, I will now have the opportunity to work on this issue in an international forum or platform to solve problems like child marriage in Assam.

When we think of girl children, we usually think of education, health and development. Now I am planning to work on child marriage as well as children’s mental health. This is because nowadays it is often seen that most of the students or children are mentally disturbed and depressed. Children aged 13-19 are especially vulnerable to stress. This is because they are faced with competition in their studies and other fields. They also suffer from parental pressure, social pressure and they are so worried about their career that many of them eventually take extreme decisions like suicide. I think I will have some responsibility in this regard as a Youth Advocate of UNICEF India and since I am doing my degree in the Department of Psychology at Cotton University, I will focus on how to explain and create awareness to make children free from stress.

Second, I will work on the overall development of children. In rural areas it is often seen that after the birth of a baby, little attention is paid to the nutrition of the child due to lack of proper knowledge among parents. They don’t even know how important breastfeeding is after the birth of a baby. As a youth advocate of UNICEF India, I will be responsible to create such awareness among parents

Nahid Afrin at a fashion show

What will be your role as a youth advocate? Will you get the opportunity to work in Assam?

UNICEF India also has a regional office in Assam. I was working with them from 2018 to 2020. Since I have now been appointed as youth advocate of UNICEF India it has become my responsibility to work on issues for which this international organization is committed. My first priority will be Assam. In addition, I will have to do my own research on what is happening among children in other states of India and I will receive information from other regional offices of UNICEF India. The impact of child marriage is very high in Rajasthan and thus I have to visit this state.

You are a student in the Department of Psychology at Cotton University, a singer and now you have been assigned with a new responsibility as a Youth Advocate from UNICEF India. What are your plans to fulfil all these responsibilities smoothly without disturbing your academic life?

Till today I have been able to maintain a balance in every work that I do. I love studying psychology and thus I am currently pursuing the subject in Cotton University. In fact, I never feel bored with reading. But once I couldn’t sit for the exam for some reason, my university and teachers helped me a lot. And I hope my teachers will continue to help me in the future so that I can continue to do good things for people and society.

You have been working for the cause of children in Assam. What according to you are the main problems faced by children in Assam?

The prevalence of child marriage is very high in Assam. Being a Youth Advocate of UNICEF I visit places and villages worst affected by such marriages. I will gather information and try to find out the root cause. I will then discuss with senior officials of UNICEF to work out an effective and long term solution. Recently I meet an official from Kenya at the UNICEF India headquarter in New Delhi and he had assured me to visit Assam to study the problem of child marriage in Assam.  

In terms of mental health, I have seen that urban children are more affected than their rural counterparts. Nowadays, children suffer from many mental problems due to parental pressure and societal pressure. On the other hand, some children become addicted to alcohol, cannabis and drugs due to bad friends and acquaintances. Such children do not really know which way they are heading. These children need proper and effective counselling and guidance. I will work in this field.

You made headlines in the past for your multi-talents. How challenging has been your journey as a Youth Advocate for UNICEF India since winning the Indian Idol title?

 I think that any kind of journey is never easy. Everyone has to do something to succeed in life and when you move towards your goal of doing something, you have to face many obstacles along the way. But it is very important to face obstacles in life. At one point, I feel very bad or sad thinking about why this is happening to me. But I am what I am today because of those setbacks.

Nahid Afrin with children at a cultural show

If I did not face those challenges, I probably wouldn’t be able to sit down and talk to you today. My parents and every member of my family have always supported me in everything and never let me down. Because of their support, I gain a mental strength that helps me to keep going. My parents never discriminated between boys and girls. As a Muslim girl I have never faced any resistance from my family to achieve my goals.

You have sung in Assamese films as well as Bollywood films, and you are currently a talented student at Cotton University. What would you like to introduce yourself in the future?

Many people ask me this. In fact, I will continue to pursue music, education and social service. God or Allah has been so kind to me so far to shower many blessings on me. One thing I must assure is that what I become or whatever I do in the future it must benefit the society. I would like to be remembered as a human being who has contributed something to make this world a better place to live in.

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You can be a role model for the youths. What message do you want to convey to the younger generation?

I admit that the youths are facing a lot of challenges these days. Sometimes I even become frustrated and uncertain about the future. But my association with successful people has taught me to believe in myself. Believing in you is very important. I want to advise my friends, younger brothers and sisters to believe in themselves and they should not become mere copy cats. Do not follow others blindly. Every individual has talents and a unique personality. One needs to understand himself or herself to develop talents. Everything is on our mind. If we think we can do something, the sky’s the limit.

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