AARTI’S FIGHT AGAINST CHILD MARRIAGE
Child marriage is illegal in India. Yet, still more than half of the girls from the lowest castes in rural areas get married before the legal age. The community of Bhadua is located on the outskirts of Benares and home to nearly 450 people. Back to Life used to run its Children's Rights Initiative in the village. Most of the inhabitants made a living as so-called “sweepers”, taking casual cleaning jobs. To feed the family both parents usually had to work given the small wages. Most of the children also had to contribute – even the very young ones – or take care of their siblings. Thus, there was no money or time available to attend school. As such, very few people in Bhadua knew how to read and write and the vicious circle of poverty repeated from generation to generation.
14-year-old Aarti, was a half-orphan from Bhadua. After her mother had passed away, her father married again and abandoned his children from his first marriage. Aarti went to stay with her older brother, Suraj, who earned a living as a street sweeper. The girl took care of the household and spent most of her time alone in the hut. Though she was an eager participant of the Back to Life Non-Formal Education Center where she learned how to read and write and also took part in our Children's Forum (Bal Manch), where social workers educated children about their rights whilst engaging in games and arts programmes.
One day, her brother said that at 14 years she was already old enough to marry, so that her future husband and family could feed her. Aarti was completely shocked. At the Children's Forum she had learned that child marriage was not only illegal, but also meant dependency for the rest of her life. She would have to drop out of school ... The girl desperately turned to our social worker, Durgesh, who immediately took initiative and discussed the issue with her brother and the members of the adult forum in the village. He succeeded convincing Aarti's brother that it would be more advantageous in the long term, if the girl continued her education and did not marry until she reached the legal age. The members of the adult forum supported this decision. The community promised that from now on they would intervene early on to counter child marriage and save girls from coercion and violation of their rights.