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Shadhika Shadhika

In Focus: Child Marriage

June 23, 2014

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Should She Go to School or Get Married? 

How Child Marriage Impacts Indian Girls

By Dana Kornberg, BSS Volunteer

Educating our young people depends on many of the right ingredients coming together successfully, but if they can’t make it to school in the first place, then the rest is a lost cause. For many Indian girls, education is a challenge because their communities expect them to get married soon after hitting puberty even if they are going to school . While child marriage is legally prohibited in India, it is still common in many areas: almost half of India’s girls are married before age 18.

In many of the communities where Shadhika’s grantees work, child marriage persists because girls are considered an economic burden to their families. There are two main reasons for this. First, because boys tend to remain at home and provide for the family as their parents age, whereas girls leave and move in with their husbands’ family, boys are seen as an investment for the future, while girls are a “lost investment” because they will just eventually care for another set of family members. The second reason is that at the time of marriage, families have to give a hefty dowry – including money, jewelry, and household goods – to the groom’s family. This creates a significant financial burden. Because the dowry increases with age, when girls are married younger, families pay less in dowry and they have one less mouth to feed.

Changing these practices will take time. Because most families haven’t seen a girl with any future other than raising children, doing housework, or manual labor, they can’t understand why a girl should continue to go to school or how that might bring financial benefits. And even thought there are some mothers who want another future for their daughters, they don’t know what to do, or they have husbands, fathers, and community members who stand in their way.

Many of Shadhika’s grantees, like Buddha’s Smile School (BSS) in Varanasi, are teaching the girls to be their own advocates to push back against family pressures and find solutions to family obstacles (see “Rani’s” story in this issue). But these problems are too big for a single girl to handle. She needs support from her peers and her community in order to change this “tradition” that sells her future short.

BSS is now raising funds to help build a dormitory for the middle school girls most at-risk. With a safe place for girls to finish high school, we can help them to become role models in their communities – showing others what is possible when girls have a chance to complete their studies and shape their own lives.

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