When 17-year-old Veena and her twin sister were married, they were barely able to walk or talk. At only the age of one and 9-months-old - their marriage was organised by their mother. It is unfortunate that many girls’ lives in India are similar to Veena’s reality. In response to this, Terre des Hommes Netherlands is working hard to make a change.
The economic situation of Veena’s family contributed to her experience of child marriage. Her father struggled with alcoholism and did not contribute to the family while her mother worked as an agricultural labourer. This led to her mother to decide to marry off her two daughters to reduce the costs of her own marriage.
Growing up, Veena was not aware of her child marriage. She continued her education by staying at her parents' house and got to know about her early marriage through her relatives and neighbours.
When the COVID-19 pandemic made the situation worse for the family and their community in Karnataka, India, it impacted Veena’s mother badly as she could no longer work in the village. Veena’s husband is also one among them who’s life was also badly impacted by the COVID crisis. He was not able to handle the financial struggles and took his life when Veena was only 16-years-old.
Through Terre des Hommes Netherlands’s partner organisation REACH, awareness raising sessions about child marriage and child rights were being conducted in her village. Through the IMAGE project, Veena’s family was identified and supported. Her family benefitted from receiving dry ration, survival kits, and garden seeds to ensure the food and nutrition for the family during the pandemic for two months.
After being widowed at an early age and being judged by her community, REACH ensured that she was provided with counselling sessions for her psycho-social well being through virtual meetings. Veena said, “People around me started judging me after I decided to continue my education after my husband’s death. But, I will not give up. I will complete my examinations and I will take vocational courses so that I can get a decent job to take care of my family”.
Many families such as Veena’s were struggling even for the pandemic. With the additional struggles that the virus brought, they are left with little to no options to survive except child marriage, child labour, and borrowing money from lenders (which lead them into a debt trap). Through the IMAGE project and TDHNL’s partner, Veena and her family were supported and became advocates against child marriage.