From mother to daughter: the economic hardships behind child marriage in India

This story was kindly shared by the Family Planning Association of India (FPAI).

The village of Beerampur in Uttar Pradesh, India, is a small and rural community of over 1,000 people who rely primarily on agriculture to earn an income.

In Beerampur, poverty often drives families to arrange marriage for their daughters before they are 18.

This is the story of Khushboo who, like her mother before her, was forced into marriage when she was just a girl.

Giving birth as a child

Khushboo’s father died when she was very young, leaving her family with little means. It wasn’t long before her mother, and the community, pressured her to marry to help her family.

“I was very young, I couldn’t say anything, I couldn’t understand,” she explains.

Shortly after marrying, Khushboo dropped out of school and, with no access to family planning, soon became pregnant. Complications arose during childbirth.

It was a question of the survival of either the mother or the baby. The doctors tried hard but they couldn’t save my child.

“It was a question of the survival of either the mother or the baby. The doctors tried hard but they couldn’t save my child.”

Her sister, Priyanka, recalls:

“My sister went into depression and became very quiet. She rarely talked to anyone. She was lost in her own world. She had become very weak as she had lost a lot of blood. I feel that her childhood was stolen from her.”

Laws against child marriage exist yet they are not enforced

In Lucknow District where Khushboo lives, 40% of girls are married before 18. Although India adopted the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act in 2006, laws are not always enforced.

Suresh, a religious leader from Beerampur, explains: “We have not received any guidelines or any rules on the Child Marriage Act.”

Ram, the village leader, adds: “I have heard that child marriage is an offence but I have not read the law yet.”

Ram concedes that girls are better off when they marry after 18, but that pressures from the community often discourage him from taking action: “I am faced with a situation where if I take any action against them, the villagers will be up against me. So even if I know, I think it’s best that I keep quiet.”

Inspiring a new generation to say no to child marriage

Despite her ordeal, Khushboo now works as a peer educator. With her colleagues, she arranges meetings and informs villagers of the ill effects of early marriages. She has even prevented several child marriages from happening herself. 

Her experience taught me that I should not even think of marrying until I have finished my studies and am able to stand on my own feet.

Watching her sister lose her baby deeply changed Priyanka too:

“Her experience taught me that I should not even think of marrying until I have finished my studies and am able to stand on my own feet. And I hope that not only me, but every girl should think of getting married only once she is independent.”