Girls in India are working together to escape child marriage

in August 4th, 2021

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In India, school shutdowns are costing girls their entire future. South Asia has the highest rate of child marriages in the world, concentrated primarily in low income families who can’t afford the fees on subsidized education (let alone keep their daughters at home). Enter quarantine and families saw work dry up. Simultaneously, pandemic restrictions on gatherings allowed for cheaper, smaller weddings without committing any social faux pas. The result? India alone saw a 17% increase in child marriages between June and July of last year.

And it’s a problem playing out globally, with an extra 2.5 million girls at risk of such unions over the next five years. In fact, a 2020 report found that the pandemic reversed 25 years of progress to end forced child marriage and instead shot up rates to the worst levels seen in 25 years. Most activist work tries to keep girls in school as education would provide job opportunities later and, hopefully, a break in the cycle of poverty.

That’s why a group of girls in northern India are fighting for their right to education. Started by 18-year-old Priyanka Bairwa — whose family, unlike others, heeded her threats of running away if married — Rajasthan Rising has grown to over 1,200 members in a few months. Bairwa shares how even though education is free until grade eight, development fees imposed by schools make it difficult for families and lead to girls dropping out and becoming child brides. Rajasthan Rising seeks to change that by extending free education through grade twelve and getting girls scholarships to cover those development costs. After teaching themselves how to use laptops and the internet, they’ve so far earned the attention of a local education officer to submit their suggestions.

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