How villages in India are going “child marriage free”

Today is National Girl Child Day in India. On a recent trip to Rajasthan we caught up with our member Urmul Trust to find out how families, communities, and girls are leading the charge to end child marriage.

The villages going “child marriage free”

In Rajasthan’s Thar Desert, many families are forced to marry their daughters off early. Poverty, social pressure and the lack of quality education all make it hard for girls to stay in school or seek a life beyond early marriage.

Actors present a puppet show about child marriage. Photo credit: Allison Joyce/Girls Not Brides.

But norms are changing. Urmul Trust takes travelling music and puppet shows to villages across the Bikaner district, educating parents and children about child marriage. The puppet show highlights harmful effects of child marriage in a way that people of all ages can understand.

After the show, everyone takes an oath that they will keep their village child marriage free, before signing a banner which is then put up in the village to hold everyone accountable.

The campaign to make villages child marriage free has reached almost 200 villages in the Thar desert. Over 49 villages are currently free of child marriage.

Villagers sign an ‘oath’ against child marriage. Photo credit: Allison Joyce/Girls Not Brides.

“There has been a change in the number of girls getting married since we declared our village child marriage free. Now child marriages are very rare.” says Pappu, father of two teenagers, Kavita and Prem.

Although it happens less, child marriages still take place. The cost of weddings is a major factor. “I didn’t want to marry [Kavita] early but I had to. I couldn’t afford to pay for two weddings” says her father.

Radha’s mother agrees. “We didn’t want to marry Radha, and Radha didn’t want to get married. But because we were marrying her older sister, we had no choice but to marry them together.”

Radha studying. Photo credit: Allison Joyce/Girls Not Brides.

“People in the village are under a lot of pressure because of poverty” says village leader Sawant Ramchoudry.

Bhaguuram Choudry, a village leader says “the main thing we are doing to end child marriage is to make sure everyone in the village knows how important education is. When people are educated, they know the dangers of child marriage.”

It’s not just community leaders creating change, families are key.

“Parents are starting to realise that child marriage harms girls” Choudry says, “so it’s not difficult to convince them. Now, even the girls are more vocal. They are refusing to get married early.”

Keeping girls in school and out of marriage

On a college campus outside Bikaner, 20-year-old Radhika works as a caretaker, studies for her degree and mentors other girls.

Radhika mentors other girls at her university. Photo credit: Allison Joyce/Girls Not Brides.

“We need to inspire and motivate girls” she says. “I was going to be married along with my two older sisters, but I spoke up for myself and my grandfather supported me. When a girl’s parents want her to marry she should tell them she wants to study, and fight for her rights.”

Radhika speaks up against child marriage in her community. Photo credit: Allison Joyce/Girls Not Brides.

Radhika is working hard to change people’s attitudes, starting with parents. “In my class there were a lot of girls whose parents were arranging their marriages. I talked to them and the parents listened to me and postponed the marriage […] In my village, I talked to [some girls’] parents and their marriages were postponed too.”

“I went to the school in my village and I gave [the boys] a lecture. I told them that it’s not only the girls who will change things, the boys also have to help, because when we come together we can change India.”