Even though it was not a surprise for Anika, when her parents told her they had arranged her marriage, she strongly refused. Anika didn’t believe marriage was the best way to continue her life. Unlike her parents, she was reluctant to think that marriage would bring her a better life. Not now. Not at 15.
Social pressure is a powerful force when you are a girl. Anikas’ parents convinced her to get married. “You just have to take a look to our neighbours and relatives”, they said. “All these married girls seem to have a good life”, thought Anika. “On the other hand, getting married would be a relief for my parents. Maintaining a household is hard when you can’t sustain your family”, she concluded and accepted.
Donawad is a little village in South West India where 2,000 people work hard in the sugar cane fields surrounding the area. Less than 34 people in Donawad don’t own land and work for others. That is the case of Anika’s parents who struggle to feed their children. A married daughter is one less mouth to feed so Anika had no option than get married no matter if she was still a child.
Providing a dowry was a challenge for Anika’s parents. With no money to offer, up to three candidates didn’t accept the scarce dowry that Anika’s parents could afford so they had to lower their expectations and ended up finding Muttepa, a divorced and much older man from the neighbouring village. Anika was not the first child bride for Muttepa who already had married a minor and, later on, had abandoned her. In such a desperate situation and guided by the need, Anika’s parents accepted Muttepa as a son in law. Finally, Anika was married and she left home.
You call it marriage, I call it prison
After the wedding, It did not take many days for Anika to realize she didn’t like her new life. She was routinely beaten, raped and demeaned, harassed by her husband and his family, Anika was forced to work night and day. She was constantly physically, mentally and emotionally abused.
For Muttepa, Anika was a domestic slave . He never gave her money and she was not allowed to get out the house. Without any means or freedom, Anika’s aspirations of continuing her education were vanished. Married, prisoner of her own house where her husband and his family were abusing her, Anika lost all hope.
Along with other initiatives like lobbying to enforce the law and conducting child marriage prevention activities, to help already married children is crucial. Terre des Hommes Netherlands and its partners in India provide professional and continuous support to this lost generation of voiceless child brides.
Terre des Hommes Netherlands mission statement is clear in this respect: “We will continue our work until this is accomplished” so, despite Anika’s in-laws denied our partner’s field facilitator meet her at first, she gradually convinced them to let her interview Anika.
Hope for the hopeless
Child marriages are a common in India. Although getting married under the age of 18 is prohibited by the law, child brides are still accepted and they often end up in an isolated and adult life for which they are neither physically not mentally ready. Child marriage is a mass abuse of human rights and, unlike what many people think, it doesn’t break the poverty cycle. On the contrary, child marriage debilitates girls impoverishing them and their children.
After the first meeting, Anika was registered as one of the Early Married Girls in Terre des Hommes’ project IMAGE, our initiative to empower married adolescent girls. Anika gradually shared her plights, desires and experiences to our partner’s field facilitator who became a bridge between Anika’s aspirations and her husband and in-laws.
Anika was supported to enrol tailoring training. Acquiring skills, socializing with other girls of her age and initiating a professional project for earning by herself opened a new range of opportunities to improve her life. Anika is now attending our project meetings and, as she states: “I lost all chances. My own people let me down. But you became a ray of hope in my life. Thanks to you, I can come out of my house. I'm learning how to sew and I can meet other women in the village because of you
An estimated 14.2 million girls are victims of child marriage each year. Help Terre des Hommes Netherlands to prevent child abuse and child marriage. Children count on us. We count on you.
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*Names and details in this story has been changed to protect the victim's identity.