Teresa Mathew
August 14, 2015 6:00 am

In a nation where 47% of girls marry before they turn 18, a young woman’s decision to resist — and to dream of something different — can touch the lives of thousands.

This is why a recent Humans of Bombay post has gone viral, garnering over 57,000 likes and 4,000 shares. The young woman in the photo shares that, when she was 15, she was taken to her family’s village to meet the groom her parents had picked for her. She made it clear that she couldn’t get married.

She was determined to prevent the marriage at all costs. “To protect myself, I’d just said that I’ll run away and tell the police — and if need be I would have followed through with it,” she says.

Recently, when faced with the prospect of marrying a divorced man with two children, she says she was so angry she told her mother, “How can I mother two children, when I’m a child myself. Why don’t you understand that if I study and earn for myself, I won’t need to rely on anyone to survive?”

Technically, under India’s 2006 Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, it is illegal for girls under 18 and boys under 21 to marry. The penalties for breaking this law include jail time and heavy fines. But the practice is especially prevalent in rural areas. As Kavita Srivastava, a Jaipur-based women’s rights activist, told The Guardian earlier this year, “Villagers don’t like city people coming and telling them their customs are wrong. Changing attitudes is a slow process.”

It is a complicated topic of discussion in a nation where parents and relatives often have the largest say in a union, and where centuries-old traditions and societal pressures are resistant to change. But child marriage has serious consequences: child brides (for child marriages disproportionately affect girls) are more likely to be poor, drop out of school, die during childbirth, and describe their first sexual experience as forced.

Though the young woman’s mother denounced her protests as “new age thinking,” marriage has not since been brought up.

“I won’t stop,” the young woman says resolutely, “I have a dream and I will become an IPS [Indian Police Service] officer and prove to her that a girl doesn’t need a man to lift her up…in fact she’s so strong that she alone, can lift up others.”

(Images via Facebook.)

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