“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. (*name changed to maintain confidentiality)
“I was merely 14 years old when my parents decided to arrange my marriage. Luckily my husband is not too old – just 5 years my senior. He did not have a job, and had nominal education. We struggled to deal with the problems 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, he came to realize that we had to live together and support each other to stay happy.
My mother in law was really impatient about child birth. She wanted to have a grandson as soon as possible. Pregnancy and child birth 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. The age difference was another challenge for them. We were all going through similar problems, and would share our issues with one another but we couldn’t help each other really.
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. I, too, heard about it from my aunty. Most of the elders were unhappy about it and thought the NGO was promoting some kind of western agenda.
The NGO people came again and again. I learnt that the NGO’s name is Bedari. It works for women rights and provides support to women and girls facing violence. Later, they decided to form a group of girls who were victims of child marriages. They said a person married before the age of 18 is a victim of child marriage. 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 negative effects of child marriages and early teenage pregnancies. They advised us not to have any more pregnancies before reaching the age of 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 is quite supportive. I talked to him, and he agreed that we should not have any more children. 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 center, where I learnt about the methods. Though my mother in law wants me to produce more children, but we have taken a strong stance.
Now I am volunteering for Bedari. I talk to other teenage mothers about these issues, and where possible I try to talk to elders as well. Slowly, we are changing our community. I am sure child marriages would become a thing of the past in a few years in our community.”