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Married Before Finishing School, These 7 Women From Bihar Lost More Than Their Childhood

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By Anju Anna John:

Mamata Kumari had always dreamt of being a nurse when she grew up. But she was married off at the age of 17, and she knew absolutely nothing about the person she was going to marry or the family to which she was being sent to. This was the end of all her dreams of becoming ‘an A grade nurse’. The sad truth, however, is not just this; the sadder part is the fact that Mamata is not alone!

Growing up, if you have never really looked at your right to education or your freedom to dream and aspire, as a privilege, chances are that you did not figure in the 6% of India’s population who are married off between the ages of 10 and 19 years! Almost half of all the girls in South Asia are married off before the age of 18; with a fifth of all girls being married off even before they are 15. India ranks 2nd, only behind Bangladesh (where two out of three girls marry before the age of 18) .

These stories of child brides from Bihar helped me gain insight into not just the circumstances that led to their marriage, but also their hopes and dreams which were shattered by being married away before they could have finished school. Bihar has been largely unsuccessful in enforcing the provisions of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. On an average, the marriage of 67% of girls below the age of 18 are solemnised every year in Bihar.

The blame, most often, is shouldered by poverty and other circumstances. UNICEF Child Protection Specialist in India, Dora Giusti, says that, ‘Girls are still seen as a burden and not worthy of investing on.’ 16 year-old Jyoti Kumari’s fate was not too different. She was in the 8th standard. Her father had recently lost his job and was finding it increasingly difficult to provide for the family. So, she was married off by the age of 16 and had her daughter by the age of 17. The irony in her story, however, is the fact that she grew up seeing her mother work at the anganwadi and aspired to become a Child Development Officer (CDO). All her childhood dreams and education had to make way for her to become a child bride.

neelam devi

Somehow, these girls are made to believe that leaving school and marrying early is a compromise they need to make. In a country where right to education (of children between the ages of 6 and 14) has been made a fundamental right under Article 21A of the Constitution, women like Neelam Devi are still married off at the young age of 13 or 14 and sent off to live with their husband’s family. In these regions, the practice of child marriage has gained wide acceptance, and has been ruled by social norms and gender roles.

kunti devi

Six months ago, Kunti Devi (who was about 16-years-old) was married off and sent to the home of her in-laws. At that point, she did not know what she wanted to become yet, but she wanted to have the opportunity to continue studying.

shiromani devi

On the other hand, Shiromani Devi – who was married at 13 years when she was in 7th class – was always involved in sports and physical activity. As a student, she dreamt of becoming a police woman one day. It is interesting to note that as of 2011, only a mere 5.65% of the Indian police force consists of women. Moreover, most states and Union territories in the country still do not have all-women’s police stations.


Sona (name changed on request) had always hoped to complete her education, be gainfully employed, and lead an independent life. Her dreams were laudable for the simple reason that India has the lowest workforce participation rate of women among the BRICS. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, the patriarchal system managed to trump her hopes and dreams in yet another instance of establishing their reign over the goals and ambitions of women.

chandni devi

Chandni Devi dreamt of being educated enough to teach not just her own kids, but also to work as a teacher in a school. It is a well-established fact that an educated woman has the skills, information, and self-confidence to be a better parent. Instead, she ended up being married away at the age of 15. Further, the fact that she had not yet learnt to do any household chores, resulted in a lot of conflict between the families, as well as between her and the in-laws.

phulo devi

Perhaps, the most heart-wrenching story would be that of Phulo Devi, whose parents decided to marry her off first, before her elder sister, since the suitors always chose her over her sister for the simple reason that she was fairer. In a country obsessed with cosmetic products that promise a fairer skin and its implicit advantages, it seems almost counter-intuitive that someone with a darker complexion would have had a higher chance of completing school, finding an occupation, and being independent. Today, Phulo Devi swiftly dismisses her childhood hopes of becoming a teacher and worries about her 4 daughters instead.


These women form just the tip of the iceberg. There are many women throughout the Indian subcontinent who have been married off before they could be legally married. We need more dialogue on this topic and better enforcement of the laws that prohibit these instances to curb the problem of child marriage.

Pictures by Louie Rodrigues.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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