India team partners with government, establishes scholarships to fight child marriage

Photo: Orphan girls rescued from child labor situations are well on their way to recovery at our girls home.

Yesterday our India team hosted a public seminar to explain the legal rights of minor girls and to heighten awareness of the illegal and dangerous nature of child marriage. Motivated by extreme cultural pressures, relatives of our Indian orphan girls often try to claim legal rights to withdraw the girls from the orphanage as early as age 12 or 13 with the hidden motive of arranging for their marriages. Thus we invited and paid transportation for many of these relatives to attend, to hear directly from government representatives about the illegal practice of child marriage.

Problem: Almost 50% of arranged marriages in India involve girls under the age of 18. 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 also 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 $500 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 by following the Take Action link below.

Take a Closer Look: view the full size of the story photo, and browse many more


Posted in: