Anuradha: More than a child bride

Anuradha was just 13 when child marriage – and motherhood – ended her dreams of becoming a teacher. Or so it seemed. Now 23, she’s a mother of three, a respected advocate for children in her community in India – and she’s back in education. How did she do it?

“Dawn had just broken and the skies began to turn bright. My mother, rather hurriedly, woke me up saying, 'Anuradha! Wake up! You need to do a lot of chores and get ready'. While my body resisted waking up, my inner voice screamed loudly, 'There is school today! Wake up!' It did not take a second longer for me to wake up and rush out of the bed.

"For the next two hours, I did all the household chores along with my mother – washing dishes, washing clothes, milking the buffaloes and a lot of other things.

"Just when I was going to get my school uniform, my mother yelled to me, 'Wear the new dress that we bought for you'.

"'But the teacher will shout at me for wearing that dress,' I corrected her.

Little did I know that my mother wanted me to dress for an event that was going to change my life."

Anuradha, with her husband Krishna and their three sons.

Married at 13

At that time, Anuradha was only 13 years old and was studying in class eight. Just a few days later, she was married; a child bride. Within a year, she gave birth to her first child.

As a child myself, I always wanted to study and become a teacher. I really did not understand marriage and its facets until I was older.

- Anuradha

Luckily, her husband, Krishna, was supportive of her and permitted her to study until the tenth standard. Unfortunately, though, when Anuradha was supposed to take her final tenth board exams, she was eight months pregnant with her second child. Due to stress being unsafe for her pregnancy, her family convinced her to miss her exams and she dropped out of school.

Anuradha now works with children in her community - making sure they get the education they deserve.

Empowered by knowledge

That’s when Anuradha met World Vision. She attended an information session in her village on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, where she learnt the importance of providing newborn babies with nutritious and healthy food. Her second child was weak and malnourished, so this programme helped her baby grow into a healthy child.

“Ever since that programme, I began attending all the programmes conducted by World Vision in my community because I felt empowered by the knowledge I was acquiring,” says a joyful Anuradha.

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Soon, Anuradha attended a training on child rights, where she learnt about education being one of her primary rights. World Vision’s community facilitator, Sunil, also encouraged her to re-take her tenth-grade exams through open schooling. Since she already had a desire to study further, she immediately asked her husband to enrol her back in school.

“When Sunil came and spoke to us about helping Anuradha complete her education, I felt it was unjust to ask her to quit school. So, I took the initiative to enrol her into the tenth grade to complete schooling,” said Krishna.

Not only someone’s wife

Anuradha’s hope reignited and she has pursued her dreams ever since. A naturally gifted speaker, Anuradha joined World Vision India as a volunteer and began training children in education and child rights. She went door-to-door in her village to sensitise parents and ensured that all children in her village are enrolled in school.

In no time, everyone in her village and neighbouring villages knew who Anuradha was.

Earlier I used to be known as ‘Krishna’s wife’, but now everyone here calls me ‘Anuradha'

- Anuradha

Stopping child marriages

Anuradha also soon realised how the dreams of many girls in her village were being silenced because of the societal evil of child marriage, which almost slayed her dreams too.

In 2016, Anuradha joined the Child Protection Unit, formed by World Vision in her village. She, along with the rest of the members, were trained about child protection issues and how to tackle them. They were also made aware of various agencies like Child Line, the District Child Protection Unit and the Child Welfare Committee, who can help legally deal with cases of child abuse and child marriage.

Since several girls had a good relationship with Anuradha in the village, one of the girls came up to her and shared about how her family was secretly getting her married at the age of 14. Anuradha, informed the local World Vision staff, and together they reported the case. Child Line visited the village, counselled the family and stopped the child marriage.

Anuradha then kept a close eye on other families in the village looking to get their daughters married as child brides.

Within two years, she reported four other cases to Child Line who not only stopped those marriages, but also conducted large-scale training on the evils and negative consequences of child marriage.

In 2017, Anuradha was recognised by the District Collector with a bravery award for stopping these child marriages.

“I don’t want other girls to endure this”

“At the age of 13, a young girl doesn’t even know how to do things for herself. The destruction of marrying off a girl and boy at such a young age is such that they cannot financially support their new family; they don’t even have a proper education to find a decent job. They do not have the maturity or capacity to endure this responsibility at that age.

“I know the difficulties of being married off at such a young age and I don’t want other girls to endure this,” says Anuradha.

Anuradha's oldest sons play together with the family's goat

Advocate, news anchor, student

Today, aged 23, Anuradha is mum to three boys. And she’s successfully stopped five child marriages and counselled over 20 families against it in her village over the past few years.

Apart from being a busy mum and an active anti-child marriage advocate in her community, she also works as an anchor for a local news channel, where she openly speaks up on child rights and the rights of women.

She is now completing her higher education and hopes to pursue a degree in education to fulfil her childhood dream and become a teacher.

And it’s not only her own dreams that are coming true. One child from the village, whose marriage was stopped by Anuradha a few years ago, recently completed her schooling and is now studying for a bachelor’s degree.

Anuradha (back) is joined by her oldest sons and some of the children she helps at World Vision's Remedial Education Centre

More than she dreamed

While playing with the children she teaches at the Remedial Education Centre run by World Vision in her community, Anuradha concludes:

“My life has changed. Ever since I was told about my rights, I’ve left no stone unturned. At first, I was very angry about my marriage but now I have left the regret behind and I’m determined to make the lives of other girls in my community secure. I feel extremely proud when girls come and thank me for stopping their marriage.”

Sponsor a child

When you become a child and community sponsor with World Vision, you help a child to become more than their circumstances. Child sponsorship funds vital programmes so vulnerable children, like those Anuradha helps, can know about their rights, can be protected, can get a quality education and can look ahead to a brighter future.

Without World Vision’s projects, Anuradha would be another child bride, mourning her lost childhood, education, her own identity and her dreams. But today, she is so much more.

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