As I write this, a girl’s marriage is being planned. She is 15, has no parents and has lived with her uncle and aunt for the past 7 or 8 years. Her marriage will be to her other uncle (her aunt’s younger brother), who is about 12 years older than she is. She has been told nothing about the marriage, other than that it is happening on the 30th of this month, in a village somewhere (to minimize the chances of police action due to the underage nature of this marital union) on the outskirts of Pune.
The girl is studying in the 10th standard and is extremely bright. She wants to go to college and find a good job to support her younger brother. Her 10th standard board exams are coming up in March and she should be worrying about how prepared she is for those exams, not her impending marriage. Anyone who has followed AIC’s work has undoubtedly seen her in photos – she is was one of the original 12 girls in AIC’s Education Outreach Program in 2006. She is not a hypothetical anecdote that I am sharing with you, nor a rare, random, shocking case that we have stumbled upon – she is a girl who has been with us since the beginning, a girl who is central to everything we have been doing in out Education Outreach Program, a girl whom we care about.
When she tries to speak out against getting married, the girl’s uncle beats her and threatens to mutilate her face or body so that nobody else will ever want to marry her. He tells her going to the local police won’t help – he has already paid them off and they will just beat her and send her back to him so that the marriage can go forward as planned. He has planted local hooligan boys as spies outside her school and in the slum to ensure that she doesn’t try to run away (again) to escape the marriage.
What this girl’s uncle doesn’t know (yet) is that she filed a case against him yesterday in court. The court police will arrive at his house sometime today or tomorrow to inform him of this. We are ready with a safe place for her to stay when he reacts badly to this news. She will never have to live with him again.
We’ve never embarked on this sort of urgent, top secret, high stakes mission before. While it feels a bit like we’re sitting on top of a powder keg ready to explode, it is also gratifying to know that this girl’s life will be completely different because this marriage was stopped. Instead of being forced to drop out of school two months before the most important exams of her entire academic career, marry her uncle, move in with his alcoholic parents and become a battered child bride and (most likely) teenage mother, she is choosing a different path.
AIC has been behind her the entire way, but it is the girl herself who is putting her foot down and standing tall in front of the court magistrate, defiantly ready to press charges against those who seek to barter her off in marriage. She knows the risks, but she is determined to change the course of her life.
I am apprehensive but hopeful about how the situation will unfold over the next few days. There is nothing to do now but wait. I will send updates as soon as I have them…