The Child Brides: Send Them to School instead

by Foundation to Educate Girls Globally
Vetted

We are talking about a village in Ajmer district of Rajasthan that is infamous the world over for being the hotbed of flesh trade and prostitution. Because of the murky “profession” that these communities have been practicing for generations, they have been perpetually shadowed by several other problems like STDs, unwanted pregnancies, poor hygiene and sanitation, physical abuse, criminal activities and so on. Moreover, education in general and girls’ education in particular has never been a priority.  

However, in the past decade or so, due to continuous interventions by the government, the police and numerous NGOs, the families here are very gradually moving to other means of livelihood. It’s a pleasant change to see them send boys to government schools. But when it comes to their daughters, families still do not want to rule out the possibility of them being (forcefully) pulled into prostitution. As a remedial step, they get the girls married and sent off to their marital homes before they hit puberty. In this scenario, the girls getting a chance to go to school is out of question.

When Educate Girls commenced work in these communities in 2014, it put all its strength in getting families to enroll their daughters in school. The major problem faced was around the enrollment of adolescent girls. Therefore families had to be encouraged to send their adolescent daughters to the government-run residential schools (KGBV) that were safe. Most of these girls were child brides, waiting to be sent to their marital homes.

Educate Girls realized that the backgrounds and issues of these girls is very peculiar and therefore ‘life skills training’ was conducted more scrupulously. In these sessions, Educate Girls’ volunteers engaged in continuous conversations with the girls to get them talking about their problems, the solutions to these problems and their future. Games, sports, drama, elocution, singing, art etc. were the means used to educate these girls about the important role of women (and educated women) in our societies. This has slowly instilled them a sense of confidence, self-worth and problem-solving abilities.

Nusrat Shaikh*, one of these girls and the Head of the Girls’ Council (Bal Panch of the Bal Sabha) says, “We could not stop our parents from getting us married very early in our lives, but we are in charge of our future now and we shall continue to study as much as we can! All of us girls here have decided to speak to our parents and get the ‘gauna’ (the ritual of sending brides to their marital homes) postponed at least until we are 18 years old. This way, we will have more years to continue with studies and figure out how we can be self-reliant.”

With her education begins the process of social change, doesn’t it?

*changed name 

Bhoori belongs to a Rajput family living in Bijoliya block of Rajasthan, India. The Rajput community of Rajasthan stand distinguished in many ways when compared to other tribal communities – often they are financially more stable, may have educated elders, have  smaller families and believe in imparting basic education to their children. Bhoori’s father works as an artisan and has a steady income while her mother and grandmother jointly manage a small flour-mill setup at home. This fetches them good profits as there is no other flour-mill in the radius of a few kilometers.

So luckily for Bhoori and her brother, basic education was never a problem. Bhoori went to the government-run school in her village where she completed grade 8 with flying colors. She was among the brightest students and always made her parents proud. For her secondary education, she walked to a faraway school where she graduated in grade 10 with a first class and then went on to complete grade 12 with a first class again. Under a government scheme to appreciate and encourage girls to continue with their studies, Bhoori was awarded with a cash prize of INR 5,000 when she completed class 12 and previously had received a bicycle when she completed class 10. The bicycle is her most loved possession and today is a part of a beautiful new chapter in her life – volunteerism!

Sometime in May-June 2015, Educate Girls conducted a Team Balika (community volunteer) recruitment drive in several villages of Bijoliya block. The organisation was looking for young, educated volunteers who would champion the cause of girls’ education in their respective villages. The team found 2 prospective candidates in a village named ‘Narsinh Ji Ka Kheda’ where Bhoori lived while another village called ‘Bhatkhedi’ found zero contenders. Bhatkhedi is challenging; it exists in a secluded geography, the houses are scattered and faraway from each other, the roads connecting the village are rough, rocky and difficult to travel on. The biggest problem being that the government-run primary school there has a single teacher who is so tied-up with other clerical jobs that teaching often takes a backseat. As a result, the parents in that village either see no value in sending children to school or send them to a school in another adjoining village.

However, Bhoori was willing take on the challenge and become a Team Balika for Bhatkhedi village and let the other girl take-up the role in her own village. “Are you sure Bhoori? Bhatkhedi is about 5 kilometers away from your home, besides the road to the village is a nightmare and I hope you know about the other challenges as well?” questioned an Educate Girls’ staff. To which Bhoori confidently replied, “The journey is going to be difficult I know, but I have a bicycle and great passion for the cause.” This was not a reply, it was a statement!

So now, every morning you will see a young lady on a bicycle enter Bhatkhedi village early morning. The ride in the scorching heat of Rajasthan is extremely tiring but her passion for the cause makes her forget her physical exhaustion. Her commitment shines through the fact that she has enrolled 17 out of school girls already. Additionally, a few children who went to the school in the nearby village have been brought back to the school in Bhatkhedi, all thanks to Bhoori’s proactive efforts.

The scenario in Bhatkhedi village is completely different today- the school now has 46 students as opposed to 25 at the start of the academic year, it has many more girls now, the teacher may still be caught up in clerical jobs but the classroom continues to witness active sessions and chirpiness and the parents feel their children are beginning to enjoy learning!

Albert Einstein has famously said, “Life is like riding a bicycle, to keep your balance you must keep moving...” and that’s exactly what Bhoori seems to be doing, quite literally! 

Team Balika, Deepa, ensures Kishbu enjoys school
Team Balika, Deepa, ensures Kishbu enjoys school

Kishbu Bairagi* is a 12 year old girl living in a small village in Rajasthan. She dropped out of school in grade 4 and began doing all the household work. She was married off as a child bride at a much younger age and was responsible for taking care of the cattle and looking after her younger siblings. As a result of added responsibilities, she was unable to go to school and was compelled to drop out of school. Getting educated and going to school remained a far-fetched dream for Kishbu.

When Team Balika (Community Volunteer), Deepa Sharma visited Kishbu’s house, she learnt from Kishbu’s parents that their daughter no longer wanted to go to school. Kishbu later confided in Deepa and told her that she felt apprehensive to go to school, now that she was older than most children and did not know much. She was scared as well as embarrassed to go to school as all other children of her age were either in 7th or 8th grade.

Deepa and Sadhana Sharma (Field Coordinator) coaxed Kishbu to join school again. However, due to her apprehensions, Kishbu could not gather the courage to return to school. Deepa however did not give up and continued to persuade Kishbu relentlessly. Finally one day Kishbu agreed. Kishbu’s parents were delighted. Deepa helped Kishbu with the enrolment process into the neighbourhood school.

On her walk to the school to get enrolled, Kishbu proudly told Deepa that she wanted to get admitted to standard 6th. A preliminary test was held to assess Kishbu’s learning levels. The school Principal and teachers suggested that Kishbu be enrolled in standard 5 based on her performance in the test. They ensured her that as her learning levels would increase, she would be promoted to higher grades.

Today, Kishbu goes to school every day smartly dressed in her school uniform. She also does the household work after she returns from school. She has become more confident and is learning very well. She looks forward to going to school every day. Team Balika, Deepa, is taking efforts and care to ensure that Kishbu stays in school and continues learning well. 

*Name changed to protect identity of minor.

Aarti (10) and Vidhi (8) live in Rajasthan, India
Aarti (10) and Vidhi (8) live in Rajasthan, India

When Aarti* (10) and Vidhi* (8) were born, there was a celebration a rare occurrence in rural Rajasthan but very common in their economically backward village. This is because Aarti and Vidhi, by virtue of their gender, are eligible to join the prevalent medium of employment in their village – prostitution. A chance at receiving an education can now change their destiny!

The Educate Girls’ Team from Mumbai is at Aarti and Vidhi’s home for a photo-shoot. Just half an hour into the shoot, the villagers get squeamish. They are worried that we’ve come under the guise of an NGO working in their village but actually want to investigate and expose their ‘secret activities’. They start to question Aarti and Vidhi’s father and pressurize him to send us away. However, one the few educated members of the village community is shown our credentials, which helps dispel the villagers’ apprehensions.

In the midst of this tense atmosphere, Aarti and Vidhi narrate their story. They have four younger siblings and their parents are illiterate. Sometimes, their father finds work in small construction sites in nearby areas. But finding paid work is scarce in this difficult terrain which does not support agriculture. As a result, the only true possible source of income for the very poor families is often sending their adolescent girls into prostitution. Like most girls here, Aarti and Vidhi were set on a path that led to this profession.

In 2014, Educate Girls’ operations scaled up to include the district where the two girls live. Since then, Educate Girls’ Field Coordinator Jitendra and Team Balika (community volunteer) Satyanarayan have conducted various village meetings to sensitize the community toward the importance and benefits of girls’ education. They have challenged the prevalent mindset and keep urging people to educate their children and look for other options of employment.

Once the two girls were identified as out-of-school girls, Satyanaran started visiting their parents regularly to explain to them the benefits of educating their daughters. Initially they were hesitant to get their girls educated, as they feared breaking away from the community’s traditions. In addition, they also depended on Aarti and Vidhi to help out with house-hold chores and taking care of their siblings. However, Satyanarayan continued with his efforts to persuade them. He took them to the government school in the village and showed them the way Educate Girls partners with the school to achieve improved school infrastructure and learning outcomes for the children. He made them aware of the world of other employment opportunities that would open up for their girls if they were educated.

Finally, Aarti and Vidhi’s parents agreed to send their daughters to school. Their parents still face resistance from the community, who were shocked at this decision. As Jitendra puts it, “It’s like a tug of war – we keep advocating their girls’ education and the villagers keep pushing them to reconsider and not get swayed by our words. We need to win this because when we do, we will positively change the lives of even those who are now against us.”

Aarti and Vidhi’s spirits are unaffected by this cultural and social dilemma. They enjoy going to school and have realized that this is what they want. Aarti wants to become a police officer when she grows up. She has seen police officers frequent the village to keep a check on the prostitution racket and knows that people are scared of them: “I don’t want to scare people. I just know that police have the power to make people do the right thing. That’s what I want.”

Aarti and Vidhi are both doing well in school and they love the sessions during which Satyanarayan uses Educate Girls’ Creative Learning and Teaching (CLT) kit for teaching. Aarti is learning to read the time on a clock. She has shown her mother how to read the time as well. Her mother said, “Although I am afraid and I know we need money, I am happy that my girls are getting an opportunity that I didn’t get. Perhaps their lives will be different. Perhaps time will show them a better future than I could ever imagine. This is why I’ve agreed to educate them.”

*Names changed to protect the identity of the minors

Educate Girls works in the remotest rural areas of Rajasthan, where it is often the only NGO to operate. By bringing girls back to school and ensuring they stay and learn well, Educate Girls significantly enhances the life chances of some of the most marginalized children in India. For instance, each extra year of education increases a girl’s income by 10 to 20%. An educated girl will benefit from a better health, make more informed decisions for herself and reduce her risk of exposure to domestic violence. She will also be more likely to send her own children to school.

Help your friends and family end the year with an act of good!

A generous anonymous donor on Global Giving has agreed to match 100% of all new recurring monthly donations up to $200. Recurring donations matching starts on December 1, and goes on until December 31, 2015. To be eligible for matching, the new recurring donation should last for a minimum of three months after the initial donation. Celebrate generosity this winter season and share Educate Girls' project link with your network!

Girls are only expected to do household chores
Girls are only expected to do household chores
Gathering villagers to generate awareness
Gathering villagers to generate awareness
Convincing the girls
Convincing the girls' parents to enroll them
Aarti and Vidhi in their school uniforms
Aarti and Vidhi in their school uniforms
Discovering the joy of learning
Discovering the joy of learning
Aarti learns to tell the time
Aarti learns to tell the time

Links:

Kirti
Kirti's back in school!

Kirti* is a young girl from a village in Rajasthan, India. She has two brothers and a sister. Her mother is illiterate, while her father has very basic literacy skills. Kirti’s parents are farmers. The family lives in an area where henna, a plant used for natural dying, grows abundantly. Most households earn their main source of income from the harvest. The usual scenario for girls like Kirti in her village is to drop out after completion of primary school and then either start helping with the cultivation or stay home and do domestic chores.

In Kirti’s village, after primary school, one has to travel to another village, which is 5-7 kilometres away, to continue their secondary schooling. Since there are no easy means of transport available, Kirti dropped out of school and stayed at home once she had completed 5th grade.

An Educate Girls’ Team Balika (community volunteer), Bablu Kanwar, visited Kirti’s home. On being asked about Kirti’s further studies, her father spoke of his reluctance to send his daughter far away for schooling. It was unsafe, expensive and futile in light of the fact that she wouldn’t really need an education to be a wife and mother in the future. Kirti remembers feeling distressed during this conversation. She wanted to protest and express her desire to study but knew she had no right to speak against her father’s wishes. Bablu challenged Kirti’s parents to change their mind-set concerning their daughter’s education. He explained why it was important for adolescent girls to study and be empowered and how not just their family but their entire community could progress when both girls and boys get educated.

Bablu continued visiting Kirti’s home to persuade her parents to send her to school and soon he became Kirti’s new inspiration. Kirti knew that in spite of the lack of facilities, Bablu was the first person in their village to have completed his 12th grade. She questioned, “If he could study, why can’t I?”

Eventually Bablu took Kirti’s father to the closest KGBV (Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidhyalaya), a government-run, free residential secondary school for girls, which is 25 kms away from their village. Finally, Kirti’s father agreed to enroll her in the KGBV. Kirti still remembers how she rushed out of her home to tell the good news to her friend when she heard it from her father.

Kirti and two other girls from her village were enrolled in the KGBV through Educate Girls’ efforts. Even though Kirti was excited to go back to school, she was apprehensive about staying away from home and wondered if the new teachers and environment would suit her. At first, Kirti felt home-sick and considered leaving. Her teacher helped her understand that going back home was not an option if she truly wanted to study further. Now, in the second year of her studies at the KGBV (7th grade), Kirti acknowledges that her teacher was right, “I am so grateful that Ms. Shobha didn’t allow my emotions to come in the way of what was good for me. If I had not followed her advice I wouldn’t be here, pursuing my dreams!”

One of the things Kirti loves about the KGBV is the fact that it has so many girls, from different villages and castes, all living together without any discrimination. Within many of their villages, caste discrimination is still prevalent and widespread. Even at this young age Kirti is sensitive to gender discrimination as well. She says, “No one listens to the women! Our voices are seldom heard. Even here at school, girls don’t easily express their desires.”

Kirti wants to become a police officer in the future and wishes there was a secondary school in her village so that all the girls could continue studying without impediment: “I want to serve my country as a law enforcer, use my voice to fight for good and encourage others to do the same. I want every girl in my village to be educated! If they study they will have more opportunities for development and they will find their own voices, just like I have found mine!”

*Name changed to protect identity of the minor

Educate Girls is an Indian NGO that tackles gender discrimination in education. We work towards achieving quantifiable impact by enhancing the government’s existing investment in rural schools in some of India’s most educationally backward districts, using our three-pronged approach of enrollment of all out-of-school girls, retention in school and improvement of learning outcomes. We value your partnership in helping us get more girls into schools!

Learn more about us on our Website.

Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube!

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Organization Information

Foundation to Educate Girls Globally

Location: Mumbai, Maharashtra - India
Website: http:/​/​www.educategirls.ngo
Project Leader:
Arundhati Bose
Mumbai, MH India

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