Dawn just broke and the skies began to turn bright. My mother, rather hurriedly, woke me up saying, “Anuradha! Wake up! You need to do a lot of chores and get ready.” While my body refused to wake up, my inner voice screamed loudly, “There is school today! Wake up!” It then did not take a second longer for me to wake up and rush out of the bed.
For two hours, just after waking up, I did all the household chores along with my mother – washing dishes, washing clothes, milking the buffaloes and a lot of other things.
Just when I was going to pick my school uniform, my mother yelled at me: “Wear the new dress that we bought for you.” “But the teacher will shout at me for wearing that dress,” I replied. Little did I know, that my mother wanted me to dress in an outfit for an event that was going to change my life.
Then, Anuradha was only 13 years old and was studying in class eight. In the following days, she was married off, a child bride. Within a year into the marriage, she also gave birth to her first child. “As a child myself, I always wanted to study and become a teacher. I really did not understand marriage and its facets until I turned 19,” she said, her eyes filled with regret. Yet, her husband, Krishna, was supportive of her and permitted her to study until the 10th standard. Unfortunately, when Anuradha was supposed to write her final tenth board exams, she was eight months pregnant with her second child. Because the stress was unsafe for her pregnancy, her family convinced her to miss the exams, and she dropped out of school.
That is the same time Anuradha was first acquainted with World Vision India – when a sensitisation programme on the importance of Maternal, New-born and Child Health was conducted in her village. She attended this sensitisation programme, where she learnt the importance of providing newborn babies nutritious and healthy food. Her second child, born that year, was weak and malnourished. Hence, this programme came as a timely help for her to see her baby grow into a healthy child.
“Ever since that programme, I began attending all the programmes conducted by World Vision India in my community because I felt empowered by the knowledge I was acquiring,” said a joyful Anuradha.
Soon, Anuradha attended training on child rights, where she learnt about education being one of her primary rights. The Community Development Facilitator (CDF) of World Vision India in her community, Sunil, also encouraged her to reattempt her tenth-grade exams through open schooling. Since she already had a desire to study further, she immediately asked her husband if she could go back to school. “When Sunil came and spoke to us about helping Anuradha complete her education, I felt it was unjust to ask her to quit school. So, I took the initiative to enrol her into the tenth grade to complete her schooling,” said Krishna.
Anuradha’s hope was reignited, and nothing has stopped her from pursuing her dreams ever since. A naturally-gifted speaker, Anuradha joined World Vision India as a volunteer and began training children in education and child rights. She went door-to-door in her village to sensitise parents and ensured that all the children in her village were enrolled in school. In no time, everyone in her village and neighbouring villages knew who Anuradha was. “Earlier I used to be known as ‘Krishna’s wife,’ but now everyone here calls me ‘Anuradha’,” she said proudly.
Anuradha also soon realised how the dreams of many girls in her village were being silenced because of the societal evil of child marriage, which almost slayed her dreams too.
In 2016, Anuradha joined the Child Protection Unit (CPU) formed by World Vision India in her village. She, along with the rest of the CPU members, was trained about child protection issues and how to tackle them. They were also made aware of various stakeholders like the Childline service, the District Child Protection Unit and Child Welfare Committee, who can help legally deal with cases of child abuse and child marriage.
Since then, several girls have had a good relationship with Anuradha. One of the girls came up to her and shared about how her family was secretly getting her married at the age of 14. Anuradha informed the CDF and together they called the Childline at 1098 and reported the case. Childline visited the village, counselled the family, and stopped the child marriage.
Anuradha, then, kept a close eye on other families in the village who were looking to get their daughters married off as child brides. Within two years, she reported four other cases via Childline, who not only stopped those marriages but also conducted large-scale sensitisation on the evils and negative consequences of child marriage.
In 2017, Anuradha was recognised by the District Collector and was given a bravery award for stopping these child marriages.
“At the age of 13, a young girl doesn’t even know how to do things for herself. So the destruction of marrying off a girl and boy at such a young age is that they cannot financially support their new family, neither do they even have proper education to avail a decent job. They do not have the maturity or brain capacity to endure this responsibility at that age. I know the difficulties of being married off at such a young age and I don’t want other girls to endure this,” says Anuradha, who now advocates against child marriage.
Today, a mother of three children at the age of 23, Anuradha has successfully stopped five child marriages and counselled over 20 families against it in her village over the past few years.
Apart from being an active anti-child marriage advocate in her community, she also works at a vernacular news channel as an anchor where she openly speaks up on child rights and the rights of women. She is now completing her higher education and desires to pursue a bachelor’s degree in education and become a teacher.
While playing with children, whom she teaches, as part of the Remedial Education Centre run by World Vision India in her community, Anuradha concludes, “My life has changed. Ever since I was sensitised about my rights, I’ve left no stone unturned. Earlier, I was very angry about my marriage but now I have left the regret behind and I’m determined to make the lives of other girls in my community secure. I feel extremely proud when girls come and thank me for stopping their marriage.”
One of the children from the village, whose marriage was stopped by Anuradha a few years ago, recently completed her schooling and is now pursuing a bachelor’s degree.