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For Diya, Calling The Police To Stop Child Marriage Was The Only Option

This post is a part of Kaksha Crisis, a campaign supported by Malala Fund to demand for dialogue around the provisions in the New Education Policy 2020. Click here to find out more.

What good does education do for a girl child? A girl convinces her parents to let her study. She stops child marriage from happening. Another girl stops the same happening to herself. She continues her studies. A happy ending to the story of struggling young girls. No.

The Reality

Look into rural Jharkhand, where the norm is to marry young girls. Girls attend schools and assist families in working at the paddy fields, all at once.

a young bride in jodhpur

She wasn’t 18 years old. I saw her getting married. I don’t know what happened to me. I just went and informed my school authorities. The police cancelled the marriage. When I see people getting married below 18 years, I feel awkward. I think about what they would do and how they would plan their future. Most girls face violence when married. Every husband hits and fights, the girls can’t say anything. I feel so guilty that I can’t change it. But I had stopped a child marriage from happening,” recalls Diya, a 14-year-old student.

She remembers dawning on this realization at the state of her village after she came back from the Goals For Girls Summit at New Delhi. It instilled in her a sense of courage that she carries with her to date.

They came to see my sister for marriage but chose me. I didn’t like it and asked my sister to reject him. He didn’t seem like a man with good intentions. I was 13 or 14 years old then. My parents were keen on getting me married. They feared I would grow old for marriage and miss out on good prospects,” recalls Nishita, an 18-year-old student.

Nishita wants more from her life. She completed school and applied for college and employment. Her limited ability to converse in English was a problem. She re-enrolled in school to study in an English medium of instruction. Her parents don’t ask her to get married now.

The Aftermath

Speaking up against a social issue often comes with a price and minimum or no support. Diya’s parents weren’t enthusiastic about their daughter putting a halt to the child marriage. “My parents asked me not to interfere with others’ issues. They asked me to be grateful for my education and move on with my own life.” She played the part of an obedient daughter and promised not to interfere. However, she didn’t stop thinking about preventing child marriage.

Diya paid the price when she noticed how society saw her differently from before. The neighbours and men from her village mouthed bad words and glared when she passed by. It made her sad and uneasy, as any 14-year-old child would be.

On the other hand, Nishita is confident she can keep marriage off the cards without familial support. The law doesn’t consider her a minor, but she doesn’t want to get married. “When I tried to tell my parents why I shouldn’t get married, it was difficult. I didn’t know what I was saying or doing. I was so young. I might have used some bad words and had shouted at my father. The neighbours kept adding to the tension at home.

The people believe girls attain maturity at early pubescent ages and want to marry them off as soon as they can. This marks the honour of a family. So it’s a rat race to see who can get their daughters married off earlier and how young they are.

The Hope

Diya stays persistent about her stance on child marriage. “We can stop child marriage, but it’s hard, not so hard if we start from us. If we keep relying on others to do this, no one is going to. It won’t stop. We should start from ourselves.” She sees girls her age not speaking up and succumbing to violence. She points to their lack of awareness of their rights.

Looking back, I am happy I spoke up against my father for my rights. He decided things for me- what to study and where to study. That wasn’t good, but I did it. I told my father of the violence and divorce after haste marriages. I know I said things to make him understand, not to hurt him. He doesn’t bring that; he understands. But neighbours keep harassing the family about it.

The Tough-To-Swallow Pills

With the onset of the 2020 pandemic and the closure of schools, child marriage happens more often in their village. With no physical reminder of their potential future, how far would the girls go to fight for their rights?

Girls as young as 15 who aren’t fortunate to have a consistent education succumb to their family’s honour-keeping business by getting married. Their friends, invested in virtual learning, cling to hope by a thread, hoping they don’t meet the same fate. Unfortunately, speaking up for their friends is not an option.

Chart describing the benefits and disadvantages of girls education. It is color coded to highlight localities where survey was done.
Fig: A study partly conducted in Jharkhand touches upon the benefits and disadvantages of girls’ education drawn from qualitative analysis. Blue boxes indicate findings from Ethiopia & India, purple indicates findings from Ethiopia, and red indicates findings from India.

We see no will to invest in girls’ education and no encouragement. We celebrate girls overcoming obstacles to complete their education. We don’t recognize how difficult it’s for a young person not to have support. They don’t need to be brave and strong girls every day. They are just kids who want to learn! They should be able to express their despair and hopelessness.

What good does education do for a girl child? First, it gives knowledge enough to speak up. Second, it provides an understanding of needing silence to protect yourself and your family. And sometimes, that is enough.

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