Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18, marking the start of their lives as wives and mothers well before they are...
I Was a Child Groom
I Was a Child Groom
I don't remember very much about my wedding, just that there was a big party and I was carried to it in an ornate carriage. I was 8 years old. Rajkumari, my wife, was 7.
She was forced to drop out of school immediately. At first, I stayed in school. I loved school. My favorite subjects were geography, social studies and ethics. And I joined as many extracurricular activities as I could, like sports, debate competitions, quizzes.
In our village children are usually married during three wedding ceremonies over several years. Rajkumari lived with her family after the first ceremony and only stayed briefly with my family after the second ceremony. I didn’t know her and was eager to talk to her, to see her, to get to know her, but it was impossible with so many relatives around. Even so, I missed her when she returned home. One time I saw her at a fair near my house, but I couldn't speak to her because she was with her father.
I was 14 when we had the final ceremony and she came to live with my family. For years we hardly spoke. We were both too shy. Still, I never questioned why I was made to marry. It seemed normal until one day my 9th grade class took a tour of sites around Nepal. On a big rock I saw painted the words “I love you.” I asked my teacher what the words meant. He said the rock was a place where young people meet secretly and say things like that. “You cannot understand, Pannilal,” he said. “They are not married young like you.”
In the same place I met an old man with his adolescent daughter. I asked him in what village his daughter was married. “My daughter is too young to be married,” he said. It was then that I realized that not all children were forced to marry. For the first time, I wished I was not married. I wished I could have chosen my wife myself.
When I was in 10th grade, my wife gave birth to our first child. I was then forced to drop out of school to support my family. Advocates for children often rightly point out that one of the reasons child marriage is so destructive is because child brides are usually forced to leave school. Cut off from an education, the ability of girls and women to earn a living for themselves and their families is diminished for life. What advocates often forget is that the same applies to boys.
Recently I spoke to a school friend who told me he was going to engineering college. The news left me feeling ashamed and pitiful. If our parents had not forced us to marry at such a young age, our lives would be so different. I would have liked to have gone to engineering school. If we were allowed to finish our educations, Rajkumari and I would have learned about family planning. Maybe I would have gone to college. Forcing children to marry doesn’t just push them deeper into poverty and threaten their health. It crushes their ambitions - whether they are girls or boys.
Today Rajkumari and I have four children. I work as a community organizer trying to educate people in Nepal about how harmful child marriage is. She stays at home with our children and is very glad that I am working to stop child marriage. She once told me, “It would have been nice if I was married to you when I was big enough to understand what it really means to be together.”
Pannilal Yadav, 25, tackles the underlying causes of child marriage as a social mobilizer with CARE’s Tipping Point project in Nepal.