As a child, you must be able to experience a childhood. A time of your life where you are carefree and have high hopes for the future. For 19-year-old Radhika, her hope for a bright future was not realized until she became an adult.
Her parents have three children and found it hard to manage as they depended on daily wage labour. Radhika being the eldest child, her parents decided to marry her off at 14-years-old despite her protests as she wanted to continue her studies. Her parents had decided to arrange the marriage in 2015 and Radhika soon after, moved into her husband’s home in Karnataka, India.
Radhika’s dreams suddenly seemed impossible. She added, “I was good in my studies and I wanted to take professional courses after school so that I could stand on my own legs and take care of my parents and younger siblings. But all my dreams were shattered and here I am as a school drop out, tending the goats, and taking care of my two small children.”
Her in-laws also did not allow her to go out and talk with anyone outside the house. She was not confident enough to express her opinion to the family.
When Terre des Hommes’ Initiatives for Married Adolescent Girls' Empowerment (IMAGE) programme was initiated in 2018, a door to door survey was conducted to register early married girls in Radhika’s village.
Awareness trainings and meetings on reproductive health, mother and child health, gender discrimination, gender-based violence, planned family life, and personal hygiene were given in the village. Radhika was regular to all these awareness programmes and showed much interest and actively participated. She had uterus problems and she was also pregnant with her second child. Health support was given to her for treatment under the IMAGE programme.
In 2019, Radhika was given a loan from Revolving Fund which was sponsored by Terre des Hommes Netherlands. Radhika joined a tailoring course in her village. With the loan she received, she has already purchased a sewing machine.
The programme’s staff has helped her to apply and to be accepted for a welfare scheme from the Government for Radhika’s second child. She was also supported to apply for other government welfare schemes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The awareness programmes made Radhika confident. She was quiet but now takes part in all activities of the family and expresses her views to her husband and to her in-laws. The spouse and parents forums of the IMAGE programme had an impact on her husband and in-laws.
They treat Radhika with respect and listen to her opinions. Her husband now helps her take care of the children so that Radhika can focus on dress designing.
Radhika is now conscious of child rights and she has already stopped two child marriages in her village by informing a child hotline. She is recognized as a leader among other early married girls. She has been chosen as a leader to participate in capacity building training to initiate a movement in villages to prevent child marriages and to ascertain child rights. She said, “I will actively involve myself in preventing child marriages in my village. I will also help children in ascertaining their rights at their homes, their schools, and their neighbourhoods”.
“It was my dream to study well when I was going to school but my dreams were not realized due to my child marriage. Since I already have two young children, I cannot go to formal education. I would like to learn more vocational skills and I want to educate my children according to their hopes and dreams, and to make sure that their future is bright”, said Radhika.
Radhika is one of many girls in India who become married ‘women’, and take responsibilities not suited for a child. The IMAGE programme aims to empower them and provide support in advocating for their rights to healthy life and to encourage them to support others.