Poonam was only 13 years old when she learned that her parents had arranged for her to be married in just a few months.

Poonam had been attending school in the village of Nandlali in a poor region of India, close to the Nepali border. Now, she would have to give up her dream of graduating.

In India, early marriage is a very common practice, deeply rooted in tradition. Approximately 58 per cent of girls are married before the age of 18.

Early marriage takes away a girl’s right to a childhood, disrupts her schooling, jeopardizes sexual health and puts her at risk of early pregnancy.

To empower and protect the health of young women and girls, PWS&D works with the Christian Medical Association of India (CMAI) to raise awareness and knowledge of sexual and reproductive health and provide girls with a network of support so they can decide their own future.

Poonam and Meera. Photo: CMAI

This is how Poonam met a woman named Meera Devi.

With support from PWS&D, Meera runs sessions for adolescent girls, addressing issues of gender and sexual and reproductive health rights.

After attending a session, Poonam better understood her right to her body and her well-being. She revealed to Meera her concerns about her upcoming marriage.

The following day, Meera arranged to meet with Poonam’s family to teach them about the negative impacts of early marriage.

Because of the information Meera shared, Poonam’s mother and father now understand how important it is for their daughter to stay in school, so she can grow up as her own young woman, and not only as a wife and mother.

The wedding has been postponed, and a joyful Poonam is completing her schooling.

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