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.
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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