The following stories are from participants in projects run by our member the Mamidipudi Venkatarangaiya Foundation (MV Foundation), a registered trust that is dedicated to building the capacity of communities in rural and urban areas to abolish child labour and empower women.
Sunitha and Anjamma’s story
Anjamma (right) and her daughter Sunitha (left) live in a rural area near Hyderabad, in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Anjamma never went to school and was married when she was very young. She has no memory of her wedding day. Anjamma’s family is poor; she is an agricultural labourer and she has no husband to support her. He died of jaundice when their daughter Sunitha was just five months old.
When Sunitha was 12 years old and in 8th class at school, she refused a marriage that Anjamma had arranged for her. Sunitha informed a local volunteer for the MV Foundation who spoke to Anjamma, persuading her that it was in her daughter’s best interests to delay marriage and allow her to continue her studies. Anjamma says it was very difficult to have her daughter complain against her, but now they can laugh about what happened. Anjamma is proud of her daughter and encourages her to stay in school and achieve the best she can.
At just 12 years old, Narmada’s family arranged her engagement to a 45 year old man who was already married. Narmada had very little education – she was mainly working as an agricultural worker. When activists and teachers asked her how she felt, she told them that she didn’t want to marry yet and that she wanted to go to school. Narmada’s family said that if she did not marry, they would break off all contact with her.
Despite this pressure, Narmada left home for a bridge course camp run by the MV Foundation to take an intensive education course that enables children who have never received an education to catch up and soon join their peers in school.
Narmada’s family reacted furiously. Family members came to the school to vent their anger. Her older brother pressed her to marry. Narmada, however, remained steadfast in her decision. With support from the MV Foundation Narmada excelled at school. She passed her 10th class with the highest marks in her village.
Now 18 years old, Narmada is studying for a diploma to become a medical laboratory technician. She lives in a private hostel but is back in touch with her family who continue to raise the issue of marriage. Narmada tells them that she wants to marry but will do so later and in her own time. This is not an issue with young boys and girls of her own age, she says: “They appreciate my decision.”
In 2007, 11 year-old Sumalatha was working in a bangle store. She wanted to do a bridge course, an intensive course that would enable her to catch up with her education and go to school. Her stepmother, however, insisted that Sumalatha marry. Preparations began for her wedding, Sumalatha did not know to whom.
Sumalatha’s family took her to a nearby town to buy wedding bangles for her big day, however, she managed to slip out of the shop and call the Mamidipudi Venkatarangaiya Foundation. With the MV Foundation’s support, Sumalatha went to the police who counselled the family against her early marriage. Sumalatha was soon allowed to take part in the bridge course.
She is now 15 years old and studying in Hyderabad. She sees that early marriages are still happening and campaigns actively in her community against the practice.
The Sarpanch’s story
The Sarpanch (right), chairperson of the Gram Panchayat in Proddatur near Hyderabad is a strong supporter of education for all the children in his community. When he was elected, he noted the difficulties of girls and boys who had married young. In an effort to discourage early marriage, he decided to register all marriages in the community. He also set up a girls’ youth committee, where a group of around 40 girls aged 15 and above can discuss the challenges they face. The youth committee gives girls a formal space to express their concerns. The Sarpanch wants to help his community’s development by helping young people to reach higher education.
In the time it has taken to read this article 3 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 3 seconds