Girl's Refusal to Be Child Bride Inspires Nation

"Being within that community and being from such a poor family, a tiny girl, is thinking of setting her own future and own destiny by her own will. That is unthinkable previously," said Prosenjit Kundu, Project Director of National Child Labor Project in Purulia.

Along with wanting to attend school, Rekha wanted to avoid early marriage because of the physical dangers involved in it. Early marriage leads to early pregnancy, which leads to low birth rates and high rates of maternal mortality. Rekha knows the dangers all too well: her older sister was married at the age of 11, suffered four miscarriages and can no longer have children.

"Child marriage contributes largely to the incidences of maternal mortality, infant mortality, increases the fertility period of a woman and that leads to larger families, which again, in turn, leads to poverty," explained Paramita Neogi, a child protection officer for UNICEF in Rekha's state of West Bengal. "When there [is] large number of children in the family, then a lot of children they don't go to school, there's no education, there's low literacy level and that again leads to early marriage. So it's like a vicious cycle."

Rekha has not only changed her fate, but also the cycle within her own family. Her mother made the bold statement that her children will not suffer the fate of many villagers.

"I will send all of our daughters and sons to school and will give up the idea of early marriage for children altogether," she said.

Rekha, a Young Civil Activist

Since returning to school, Rekha has also become civil activist. She and her classmates - who also refused to become child brides – walk with her through the farming community and give lectures at community meetings urging other families to oppose child marriage. And Rekha's efforts are paying off. In the past wedding season, there were no child marriages in her village.

Rekha shrugs off her notoriety.

"I'm more interested in the action," she said. "We are confident that any marriage that is arranged, anyone who arranges marriage, I'm ready to oppose the parents, along with the teachers and friends, to stop the marriage."

Her small act of rebellion changed her life, her village and now, she hopes, will change an entire nation.

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