In India, the country with the most child brides worldwide, an estimated 47 percent of girls are married before age 18, putting their physical, emotional and mental health at risk. Although it is illegal in India for girls under 18 and boys under 21 to marry, the tradition remains entrenched.
For a long time, ChildFund has worked with adults and youth in the state of Madhya Pradesh, where the practice is particularly prevalent, to end this harmful tradition. For many in this fight, the stakes are personal.
When 17-year-old Sonam’s parents insisted that she get married, she protested, and together with her youth club members who had taken an oath to become role models for others by not becoming the victims of early marriage, she spoke with her parents. She shared that she did not want to get married before reaching the legal age and also wanted to study further to achieve her dreams.
At the launch of a 100-day child marriage awareness campaign in 75 villages earlier this year, Sonam was recognized for addressing the issue of early marriage and for standing up against her own marriage. Anmol Jeevan, the campaign, drew great support from the community, including village leaders and parents. Thousands of people attended the event where Sonam and other youth members received awards.
“ChildFund has changed my life — it came as a ray of hope in my life and has given me courage to dream about my future,” she said while accepting the award.
Sonam has been with ChildFund India since the beginning of the project, for more than six years. She has actively participated in several of ChildFund’s programs, awareness camps and meetings on early marriage. She also encourages mothers to get their children immunized and provide nutritious food. She also has promoted literacy in her village by doing door-to-door counseling and getting children of her village enrolled in school. With Sonam’s and her youth club members’ persistent efforts, more than 62 community members have learned to read — out of the 142 illiterate village members they had identified.
After a lot of persuasion, Sonam’s parents were convinced that she should remain unmarried. With their support, she is now preparing for exams, with plans to become an engineer and help her village.
“If convinced properly,” says Sonam, “parents will support their daughters’ wishes to study instead of getting them married at an early age.”
And when they do, those girls will be able to make enormous contributions within their own communities — as Sonam has.
With Special thanks to ChildFund India