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Lilawati Stands Against Child Marriage in India

Impact Stories, India

In Bihar, India, an alarming 80 per cent of girls are forced into early marriages. Not only does this reduce the likelihood that they will complete school, but it makes young girls—married as early as 12 years old—more susceptible to trafficking for child labour and sexual exploitation. Bihar region also ranks among the states with the highest rates of domestic violence, with 58 per cent of married women reporting instances of violence. 

The Karuna Project at the Duncan Hospital aims to empower and protect girls through raising awareness about their rights among decision-makers in households and villages, and local government workers. Since poverty is one of the root causes of neglect for girls’ rights, the project also provides livelihood and income-generating opportunities for marginalized families. 

“I will be a role model to other girls.”

Lilawati uses what she’s learned to speak out against child marriage in the community and in her home.

Lilawati Kumari is a 16-year-old from Mudwa village who participates in the Karuna Project. In one of the classes she attended, she learned about the negative effects of early marriage, as well as how to advocate against it. Lilawati decided that she would raise her voice against child marriage­—both in the community and in her home.

Lilawati’s two sisters had both been married at a young age, and her parents were planning the same for her. However, she told her parents that she had other plans: “I want to study and achieve my dreams. I do not want to waste my life like this.”

Lilawati reasoned with them that if they did not stop the marriage, she would call the child helpline and make a report. Despite her stunned parents’ continued efforts to persuade her, Lilawati stood her ground and eventually convinced them to stop trying to force the marriage.

Through continued conversations with her parents about child marriage, the laws against it, and its effects on girls, Lilawati helped them understand the negative impact of early marriage on a child’s life, and on the broader society. They are now supportive of Lilawati as she pursues her education. 

Lilawati is excited to bring what she’s learned about the rights of women and girls to others in her community. She says, “I have taken the first step in my family and will be a role model to other girls so that they can take a stand against child marriage in their homes and work towards fulfilling their dreams. I will encourage them to pursue higher studies. Seeing me shine, many people in the community will allow their girls to study and stop early marriages. I thank the Karuna Project for the valuable lessons they are teaching us through these adolescent classes.”

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