In some communities in Karnataka, India, children have to provide support to their parents by working. This often takes a toll on their education. With lesser opportunities due to their lack of education, these children are forced to be married-off.
This was the experience of Pooja as her family is from Devadasi community, where child marriage and sexual exploitation have been part of the its religious practice.
When Pooja was a child, she was able to regularly go to school. It was not until she was in 10th Grade that she had to drop out of school to support her family’s financial problem. Pooja had to help her mother do household work and spend her remaining time working in a farm as a daily wage labourer. Reflecting on her experiences, Pooja said, “I lost my hopes in my education as I failed in my exams and my parents forced me to work and they were deciding to get me married this year. At my work, I am also forced to work extra time and physically harassed”.
Terre des Hommes Netherlands’ Project Children Empowerment for GOOD reached her village just in time. Under the project, girls from Devadasi communities were identified and grouped into child clubs where they were trained on child rights, life skills, and advocacy. Identification was done through different approaches such as research, observation, monitoring, and enquiry to communities.
In Pooja’s village, 22 girls were identified to be at risk of early marriage and were grouped together to share their experiences and function as a support group for each other. The child club group has helped Pooja be aware of her rights and protection systems. The group also helped her be brave and courageous.
During COVID when Pooja’s parents decided to get her married, she was very brave and informed her friends in the group who called ChildLine to ensure the marriage was stopped. Terre des Hommes’ partners visited her house and counselled her parents on the importance of education and the need to enroll her back to school.
Her family is closely monitored and her parents agreed to send her to college to continue her education. Pooja is very happy and appreciates her group for all their support.
She said, “I am very happy that my parents are aware about the importance of education. I will also help my friends who are helpless and not able to go to school”.
Pooja is an active participant in the child club and is very interested in supporting the community in stopping child marriages. With the necessary training and support, she will create more positive change for her group and her community.“
I want to become a teacher and serve my village by educating all children to make sure that no one becomes a dropout”, wished Pooja.