India: Scholarship program protects orphan girls from potentially deadly arranged child marriages

Photo: Once trapped in lives of child labor with little hope, now rescued, safe and thriving at our India Girls Home.

Problem: Almost 50% of arranged marriages in India involve girls under the age of 18. Motivated by extreme cultural pressures, relatives of our Indian orphan girls try to claim legal rights to withdraw the girls from the orphanage as early as age 12 or 13 so they can arrange for their marriages.

In the state where we work (Andhra Pradesh) the problem is even worse, with 55% of marriages involving girls under the age of 18. Of this group, 2.6% were married before they turned 13, 22.6% were married before age 16, and 44.5% were married when they were between 16-17. These statistics, provided by the Indian census, are probably optimistic—marriages in India are often unregistered, and are socially binding if not legally, which makes it extremely difficult to accurately survey.

Solution: When we establish scholarship funds for these girls to pursue higher education, a cultural perspective discourages the relatives from marrying the girls, because these poor families view it as a large sum of wasted money—around six month’s wages. The relatives are actually relieved because it gives them a culturally acceptable excuse not to pay the dowries required to get these girls married.

It’s just what we need to avert the tragedy of seeing a 13 year old girl pregnant, likely giving birth to a premature baby or dying from complications in childbirth. Even better, it assures the girls’ chances at a quality higher education and stronger opportunity for empowerment.

Although it may not seem like much, a scholarship fund of $250 is a substantial investment in the context of the Indian economy, where average wages are around $1.50-$2/day. Please consider contributing toward this important fund.

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