India’s marginalised girls fighting child marriage

“I want to study at least up to 12th standard (grade)” was Saira Bano’s heartfelt cry when her parents started looking for a groom for her in October 2020.

It had been a tough year for her parents in their remote northwestern Indian village. Since a nationwide lockdown to check coronavirus was imposed in March 2020, Saira’s father has not been able to find much work.

He earned about 1,200 rupees ($17) a week as a labourer in pre-COVID times, which barely kept the family afloat. And when that stopped too, he thought it was better to marry Saira off instead of spending the family’s limited resources on her education.

Saira is 17.

“We are six brothers and sisters,” she said over the phone from her village of Kudgaon in Rajasthan state’s Karauli district.

“We have always lived in poverty. After COVID, it has become even more difficult to sustain the household.”

Around the world, about 12 million girls a year are married off before they turn 18, according to the United Nations. Nearly 30 percent of South Asian women aged 20 to 24 were married before 18.

The coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated the crisis.

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