Roopa shared, "One day, I was at school, and the next, I found myself dressed in a saree and jewellery to get married. It all happened too quickly, and it was scary. Worst of all, it was not my decision."
At only 14 years old, Roopa's parents arranged her marriage to a 22-year-old man named Satwik. India has the highest number of child brides globally. Young girls, like Roopa, from socio-economically disadvantaged communities, are often forced into early marriages due to poverty and tradition. These early marriages have negative impacts on their mental health and overall well-being.
"After getting married, I felt suffocated. It was like being trapped in a box," Roopa recalled. "I had dreams and aspirations. I was doing well in school, but it all seemed pointless."
By 16, Roopa had two children, and her mental health continued to deteriorate. "I was not ready to be a mother. I struggled with my bodily changes and suffered from several health complications. I felt like my life was spiralling out of control," she said.
As part of the IMAGE project, we identified Roopa and enrolled her in a tailoring skills training program. Over time, Roopa's mindset began to change, and she became more confident and driven.
"I enjoyed learning a new skill, and I was good at it," she said. "I met new people, made friends, and felt lighter from the inside."
Roopa soon became an excellent sewer and was supported to teach tailoring to 17 other young girls who had also been married off at a young age. She even opened her tailoring centre in her own home.
"We noticed that Roopa was popular among the other girls and was inspiring them," said Ayyappa, Terre des Hommes Netherlands’ partner project coordinator. He added, "We appointed Roopa as a movement leader and taught her how to raise awareness against child marriages."
Roopa became a well-known figure in her village and nearby areas, conducting rallies, workshops, and speaking at schools to raise awareness against child marriages.
"It wasn't just one moment that changed everything for me," Roopa explained. "Through the IMAGE project, I found a new purpose in my life - to empower girls like me and stop child marriages. I don't want any other child to go through what I did."
Through her efforts, Roopa has recruited other young girls who were married off at a young age to join her in the movement against child marriages. Together, they raise awareness against child marriages, promote child protection, and advocate for policy changes.
"I am happy to be back to my old self. It feels like I have emerged from a dark place," Roopa said.