“Daughters are considered a burden, and the sooner you get rid of the burden, the better. This mindset is the most important reason for child marriages in our communities. Mine was no exception.” This is how Beena starts her story.
“I was only 14 years old when my parents decided to arrange my marriage. Luckily my husband is not too old – just 5 years older than I am. He did not have a job, and had nominal education. We struggled to deal with the problems that our marriage brought. In the beginning he quite loved me, but later on he thought I was the reason for each and every problem he faced in his life. Slowly, though, he came to realise that we had to live together and support each other to stay happy. My mother in law was really impatient about us having children. She wanted to have a grandson as soon as possible, so I got pregnant.
Pregnancy and childbirth were really horrible experiences for me, and then raising a child was another challenge. Most of the girls of my age were married and had one or two children. Some of them were married to much older men, which was another issue for them. We were all going through similar problems, and would share our issues with one another. But we couldn’t really help each other.
One day, we heard that representatives of an NGO came to our village and talked to the village elders about child marriages and its negative consequences. The elders started talking about it amongst each other. I heard about it from my aunty. Most of the elders were not very pleased about it, they thought the NGO was promoting some kind of western agenda.
But the NGO people came again and again. I learned that it was a local non-profit organization called Bedari. They work for women’s rights and provide support to women and girls facing violence. Later, they decided to form a group of girls who were already married. They helped us understand that a person married before the age of 18 is a victim of child marriage. So, I talked to my husband and joined the group. They provided us with lots of valuable information, and encouraged us to speak about the problems we faced due to early marriage. They told us about teenage pregnancies and other effects of early marriage. They advised us not to have any more pregnancies before becoming at least 20. I was convinced. In fact, every girl in the group was convinced, but we could not take a decision on our own. I was lucky, as my husband was quite supportive. I talked to him, and he agreed that we should not have any more children for the time being.
Then I got back to the Bedari representatives and asked them to tell me about family planning methods. They referred me to a population welfare centre, where I learned about the methods. Although my mother in law wants me to have more children we have taken a strong stance.
Now I am happier and I am volunteering for Bedari. I talk to other teenage mothers about these issues, and where possible I try to talk to the elders as well. Slowly, we are improving our community. I am sure that in a few years child marriages will become a thing of the past in our community.”