According to the Girls Not Brides global partnership, every year an estimated 10 million girls under the age of 18 are married worldwide with little or no say in the matter. In the developing world, one in seven girls is married before her 15th birthday and some child brides are as young as eight or nine.
More than a third of child brides live in India. Prasanthi, Revathi and Vijaya are three young girls from India’s southern state of Andhra Pradesh whose families were affected by HIV and who then found themselves at serious risk of becoming child brides as a result of the associated stigma.
“Once the community knew that your parents were living with HIV, I might not have been able to arrange a marriage for you and I am in my 80s so who would care for you,” one distressed grandmother told her granddaughter. “Although you were not HIV positive everyone thought that you were.”
In India child marriage is illegal but still occurs and each year millions of girls are married well before the legal age of 18. As well as being a violation of human rights, marrying at a young age and early sexual contact put girls at higher risk of sexual health problems including HIV.
Inspired by Gandhi’s ideals of service to humanity and equality, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance’s partner in Andhra Pradesh Vasavya Mahila Mandali (VMM) aims to promote the social, economic and political development of women, children and young people in vulnerable situations and has been working for a number of years to try to end the injustice of underage marriage through community-driven initiatives.
Working directly with community members is a powerful way of changing attitudes and behaviours and VMM takes an approach that encourages communities to discuss the cultural and gender norms that are at the root of child marriage in order to improve communication between parents and their children.
Prasanthi, an orphan who dropped out of school at 13, was on the verge of being forced by her uncles and grandmother to marry after the onset of puberty until a VMM outreach worker intervened. Her father, an agricultural labourer, died of AIDS and her mother left home when she was just a baby; her sister Kavitha was married at 12. VMM, through its home- and community-based care and support programme, managed to convince Prasanthi’s grandmother to allow her to join a children’s support group through as well as attend a three month residential beauty care training course. Prasanti is now working and regularly speaks out against child marriage in her community.
Revathi is another agent of social change who uses her own experience of nearly being married off as a young girl to become a founder member of the Children’s Leadership Development Association, a community-based organization supported by VMM that works with orphans and vulnerable children to train them on key life skills and child rights. Vijaya, aged 15, both of whose parents are living with HIV, is just one of many girls who, through learning about her rights and protesting, was able to change her fate and escape an early marriage. Both the Children’s Leadership Development Association and VMM met with her parents over a period of time to counsel them against the marriage of their daughter at such a young age. Vijaya is now enrolled on a full-time nursing course.
On this first UN International Day of the Girl, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance is proud to be part of the Girls Not Brides global partnership and to be supporting the work of partners like VMM to work to end a practice that threatens the health and survival of so many young girls.
More than a third of child brides live in India