A minor rag picker girl from Kalakhamb village in Belagavi Taluk stood up to her family and refused to be married off despite immense pressure from the community.
This 14-year-old did not just defy her elders and say ‘no’ to child marriage, she even educated them on why it was illegal and could result in imprisonment.
Consequently, her 18-year-old brother too changed his plans to marry a minor girl, and her cousin sister too decided to go down the same road as her.
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Swati (name changed) is one of six siblings and had never been to school till she was 11. She used to go rag picking with her mother until Vadagaon based Salesion Sister of Don Bosco (SSDB), a non-profit NGO that works for orphan and destitute children, picked her up and gave her shelter. They convinced Swati’s parents to let her go to school.
After a year’s education by the NGO, she was able to get admission directly in Class 5. While at SSDB, she participated in a street play about child marriage, in which she played the role of a child protection officer. This play had a strong influence on her.
A year later, when she returned to her parents’ home on vacation, she found out that they had arranged for her to be married to a boy from Hunchenatti village. Swati was only 12 at this point. She somehow managed to convince them not to get her married and returned to SSDB. After this she started avoiding going home at all, said Peter Gonsalves, caretaker of the children at SSDB, to Times of India.
However, when she had to return to her parents’ village this year in May, she faced the same pressure again. But she refused marriage outright, informing her parents that they could face a five year jail term and a fine of up to Rs. 1 lakh for pushing her into marriage. When her parents took the matter to the elders in the community, Swati convinced them too that child marriage was illegal.
Swati is currently studying in Class 8 and dreams of becoming a doctor to serve her community.