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Nisha’s inspiring journey: from distraught child bride to movement leader

September 1st, 2022

At 13, Nisha was forced to marry an 18-year-old from a nearby village, as her parents did not earn enough to raise her and her three siblings. She was then sent to live with her husband and in-laws. Nisha’s husband and father-in-law are the main breadwinners, and they work as agricultural labourers. Nisha's husband also provides for his sister's family (which includes her children). When she moved in with her husband, Nisha had all of the household chores put on her shoulders. At 18, she has a 5-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son.

“I agreed to get married as I thought after my sacrifice at least my siblings would get a good education and three meals a day. But, we are so unlucky. My father passed away within a couple of days after my marriage which broke me down to pieces. Due to this, my two younger sisters were also made to marry before they even turned 16 years old. We are all now victims of child marriages. None of us got a chance to complete our education,” explained Nisha.

Nisha lives in Thirthkunde, a remote village in Khanapur Taluk of Belgaum district, India. Bound to the walls of her home, Nisha used to wake up to fetch water, wash clothes, clean and cook for the family members. After a short nap, she would go on cleaning, cooking and taking care of her children during the afternoon and evening. She had dreamt of completing her studies, marrying and having kids so young took that dream away from her.

In 2018, when Nisha enrolled on the IMAGE project, she had a baby in her arms and her health was not in a good condition. After enrolling, she received Rs. 1000 in health assistance and learned about Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights. In 2019, when the second phase of the programme, IMAGE Next, was implemented in her village, she became a movement leader.

Terre des Hommes Netherlands’ programme IMAGE helps child brides in India (where almost half of all girls marry before they are 18) become stronger and stand up for themselves. It educates communities and offers a place where these girls can develop their professional skills. In July and August 2021, Nisha attended the leadership and life skills training, and she received a tablet so that she could participate in the virtual meetings organised during lockdowns. In January 2022, she was selected as a block-level movement leader.

“Now I know the struggles the girls could be facing after child marriage. I realised my responsibility which is why we formed a group of movement members and discussed how we can contribute to stopping child marriage in our village,” she stated. “As a movement leader I feel very charged and I have gained great knowledge after cross-learning with other movement leaders. I have also found a way to balance my work in the movement and my personal life,” she says.

Currently, Nisha takes care of her children and mobilises girls in her village. “Me and my group members will work hard to prevent child marriage and contribute to creating our village as a ‘Child marriage free village in our block’”, she said. She also wants to make sure her children receive an education: “As my eldest daughter is 5 years old, I will take care of her and fulfil her dreams. I will not commit the same mistake as my parents."

Nisha’s journey is very inspiring to other EMGs. Earlier distraught with life, burdened with household work and raising her two children, Nisha has found a more fulfilling purpose. She has taken it upon herself to improve the lives of other early married girls and at the same time prevent more child marriages from happening.

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