“When I was a little girl, I would dream that I should finish my college studies and get into a good job, but that dream is shattered. Though I would like to study, it is difficult now as I have a small child to take care of. Now my dream is to take up a vocational skill training course, earn money through it and provide for my child.”
Parents are an important figure to a child. If they are strong, their child aspires to be strong. But if they show vulnerability, understanding it may be difficult. Devamma experienced this first-hand with her mother in Karnataka, India and she hopes to change this cycle for her new-born daughter.
Her mother worked hard as a daily wage labourer to bring up her daughters. She got her two older daughters married. Devamma was a bright student in school and was offered scholarships. Her father had deserted her mother and her three daughters. Devamma was the youngest . Devamma’s mother went into depression and soon committed suicide leaving Devamma with her grandmother, another daily wage earner.
Devamma’s education was stopped and her dreams of studying further were shattered. Due to old age and failing health, the grandmother decided to marry 13-year-old Devamma off when she reached puberty. She got Devamma married to Ramesh without the knowledge of his mother. Since Ramesh married Devamma without informing his family, his mother did not accept Devamma and because of that, they had to migrate to another village. They had to struggle a lot to make ends meet and the struggle put Devamma into depression.
Unfortunately, all my dreams were shattered due to my family situation and I was helpless as I could not even protest when my grandmother arranged my marriage. After my marriage, when my mother-in-law did not allow me and my husband in her house, we had to struggle a lot to find a place and work. All this made me depressed mentally”, Devamma continued.
In September 2019, Devamma had become pregnant. She went to the Primary Health Centre for a check-up, where she was asked to present her identification as a mother. As she was just 13 years old, a mother card was not given to her. It was at that time that she was identified by People’s Movement for Self-Reliance (PMSR), Terre des Hommes Netherlands’ project partner. She was enrolled into the IMAGE Next programme as an Early Married Girl.
One of the staff members took her case to the Child Protection Committee. The Child Protection Committee approached the District Health Officer which Devamma was given her Mother Card. She was given the social protection she was entitled to.
As her delivery date was nearing, no hospital was willing to admit Devamma as she was only fourteen. Her mother-in-law was also not willing to lend her support. She was then counselled, along with her mother-in-law, on the importance of protection and safety. On April 14th, 2020 Devamma developed labour pains and was taken to the local government hospital but not admitted due to her young age. Upon support from the Primary Health Care Centre’s doctor, the project staff ensured that Devamma was admitted in the hospital.
Devamma delivered a baby girl, but the hospital informed the police about the child marriage and her husband was arrested. He was presented before the District Child Welfare Committee and with the help of PMSR, a bail was granted, considering Devamma’s situation.
Having to care for the new born baby and the mother, the mother-in-law stopped going to work. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Devamma and her family were provided financial support, dry ration, hygiene kits, and nutrition. Moreover, PMSR is making plans to support her through various government welfare schemes. Devamma added, “The abrupt stop to my school studies, my childhood marriage the lack of intimacy in the family, the economic hardships and the discrimination made me feel extremely depressed. The care and support that I received from the project staff really helped me come out of my bad situations”
Devamma and her brother-in-law go for their daily wage work but due to COVID-19’s lockdown restrictions, it is difficult for them to get jobs everyday. The family is drenched in economic hardships. At such a time, with help from the TDH’s partners, the District Child Protection Unit has given the family 20,000 rupees (225 EUR). This money is helping them survive. “All the support received from the project has helped me become strong emotionally and I have become confident that I can live like anybody else”, said Devamma.
Terre des Hommes’ Initiatives for Married Adolescent Girls’ Empowerment (IMAGE) project addresses the problems that early married girls such as Devamma face in India. By working with the girls themselves, their families are supported, and their communities and local governments knowledge on these issues are built.