For many children around the world, making a mistake is a learning process for them. This does not define the rest of their lives, and it also does not define who their parents are. It is a major part of their childhood to make mistakes and learn from them.
For Mala, this was not the case. The 17-year-old made a mistake that almost directed her to a path that she thought could change and accepting it was the only potential solution. As a girl growing up in the state of Karnataka, India - Mala’s risks to child marriage is high due to poverty and traditions that are accepted for adults.
She fell in love with a boy in her neighbourhood and agreed to marry him after she finishes her education. However, she decided (along with the boy) to leave her parents and elope. After four months of being away from home, they were found and rescued.
In a traditional society, this situation was particularly difficult for Mala’s parents. Her parents struggled, with her father turning to alcoholism. They were upset and decided that she should live with her in-laws. Experiencing the same shame, Mala’s in-laws also did not take their early marriage well and abused her in their home.
“No one was there to support me. I felt alone, neglected and I lost all hope of leading a happy and prosperous life”, said Mala.
In such a hopeless situation, early married girls such as Mala often accept their fate and expected role as servants to their in-laws or their own family. However, she was identified by the IMAGE Next project to share her problems and be involved in skill programmes. Through much counselling between staff, Mala, and her in-laws, her life started to change.
This Terre des Hommes Netherlands project had been operating in India for many years. Early married girls such as Mala can express their concerns and hope for their future. Through the programme, her husband and in-laws learned about child abuse and the importance of education. Through their support, Mala was able to take a pre-university exam and be admitted to a nursing college.
“My spouse is very supportive and helps me in continuing my studies. I will complete the nursing course and be ready to serve people. I will also continue my work to provide awareness against child marriages”, she added.
The IMAGE Next project also provides leadership training to empower girls in marginalised communities. Upon participating in these trainings, Mala gained confidence and became a youth advocate for Terre des Hommes. She educated other early married girls in her community and even supported the organisation’s staff during the COVID-19 pandemic by identifying people who needed health support and food.
“I know I committed a big mistake in my life. My parents had dreams for me and wanted to provide a good education for me. But, at that time, I was not in the position to make the right decision that was needed for my life. I married my husband. I struggled a lot. Like me, many girls make wrong decisions at a young age. I am grateful to have gotten timely guidance and support. This has helped me reach a good position in life. I am where I am today because of the IMAGE Next project”, Mala ended.