Teenage girl fights early marriage, setting precedent in rural India
According to Indian law, it is illegal for girls below the age of 18 and boys under 21 to marry. But Rekha Kalindi comes from a family of six children and meager financial means. Thus, like many girls of her age in this part of India, Rekha was to be wedded off at a very young age to spare the family from extra costs.
“I learnt in school that if a girl marries young, she may miscarry her child and could also die during childbirth,” says Rekha. “My elder sister got married at the age of 11, and then had 4 children, all of which died. That’s why I said no to my parents.”
Rekha’s parents were shocked by her decision, and withheld her food and water for a few days. But she stood firm and they finally relented.
“We are poor people. I have three sons and three daughters. I earn only US$11 a month, and can’t afford to feed my family,” explained her father Korno Kalindi.
The economic struggle has forced many girls of Rekha’s age into family life. 15-year old Archana Kumar married two years ago and already has a baby boy. She is struggling to continue her school studies.
“In school I used to like athletics: long jump and high jump,” Archana recalls. “I can’t go to school now, so I’ve dropped one year.”
The part of eastern India where Bororola is located has the lowest female literacy rate in the country, at just over 18%. While children of Rekha’s age elsewhere in the world are working hard at school, kids in many Indian villages like Bororola are forced to end their studies to get married.
Thus, Rekha’s decision to resist marriage in order to attend school has made her a role model and now other girls in the village are also saying no to underage marriage.