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India listens after a child bride says 'I won't.'

The girl's courage has prompted India, where nearly half of all females wed before age 18, to consider the consequences of marrying young.

Rekha Kalindi, a 12-year-old girl living in Bararola, India,refused to get married when her parents tried to arrange one she wanted to stay in school. Her revolt, and those of two other girls in the region, have halted new child marriages in their rural region of West Bengal, India. The legal age for marriage in India is 18 for girls and 21 for boys. But arecent study published in the Lancet found 44.5 percent of Indian women in their early 20s had been wed by the time they were 18. Of those, 22.6 percent had been married before age 16, 2.6 percent before age 13.

Ben Arnoldy

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When Rekha Kalindi was nearing age 12, her parents told her they were planning to marry her off. Rekha's response would reverberate all the way up to the president of India: "No."

Nearly half of all Indian females get married before turning the legal minimum age of 18. The requirement has been in place for more than three decades, but centuries of custom don't change overnight – and that's especially true in Bararola, a land carved up into small farm plots and crisscrossed by dirt paths that takes at least a day's journey to reach from Calcutta. But even here, some people are taking a stand.

Many locals eke out a living making beedis, a leaf-wrapped Indian cigarette. Rekha was rolling beedis with her parents inside their mud-hut home when they broached her nuptials.

"I was very angry," says Rekha. "I told my father very clearly that this is my age of studying in school, and I didn't want to marry."

With the help of friends, teachers, and administrators, Rekha accomplished what the law alone has not. No child marriages have taken place in the surrounding villages where she and two other girls refused to marry last summer, and similar approaches are meeting some success in other regions.

"We have a strong law and we need to find the people who can advocate for [it]," says Sunayana Walia, a senior researcher at the Delhi office of the International Center for Research on Women. "All the [successful] interventions are tapping the girls ... so they are able to campaign on this issue, along with community participation."

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