Early marriage is expected to rob the futures of some 100 million girls in the next decade. Most of them will be deprived of the chance to finish school; many also will suffer greater risk of contracting HIV and sustaining debilitating injuries, or death, from early childbearing.
Intensified by the growing global food crisis, this dangerous practice is spreading, leaving much at stake.
"Multiple studies have taught us that there is no more effective tool for development, or better investment for impoverished countries, than to educate girl children," says Ruthi Hoffman Hanchett, an education policy officer with World Vision's international office. "But we find that with so many girls forced to leave school at early ages, a cycle of poverty and illiteracy continues to trap their families and communities."
Mayuri, 14, looks like any other girl in Gosavasti, but this sponsored youth's smile and her confidence clearly indicate she is being given every opportunity to experience life in its fullness.
"I want to be police officer," she says, holding her father to his promise that he will support her. "Until I complete my studies, I will never get married."
Those are bold words, but Mayuri is beating some steep odds. Early child marriage is traditionally a common practice in Pune's slums and across South Asia.
In India, nearly 31 percent of girls are married by age 15. "Girls at a young age do not have to pay such a high-priced dowry. So the girl's family saves money if they marry off their daughters early," explains Subhash Jherombed, a World Vision staff member in India. (A "dowry" is the money, goods, or estate a woman brings to her husband in marriage; it remains a common practice in India.)
According to a new World Vision briefing paper, "Before she's ready: Fifteen places girls marry by 15" (pdf), forced early marriage is rooted in families and communities where "the starkest poverty mixes with cultural traditions and lack of education to limit a girl's perceived value…"
The report also highlights how innovative programs, offered in many World Vision sponsorship communities, are tackling the underlying needs that fuel the dangerous practice of early marriage.
Years of hard work are reaping positive returns: Many parents in Pune's Gosavasti slum do not believe in early marriage anymore.
Because of World Vision's income-generation projects, a number of residents have increased their economic status.
Four years ago, Mayuri's family shared a one-room shack. Today, the family lives in a secure, three-room home. The teenager's father has a better job that enables him to meet his family's needs, alleviating the heavy financial pressure to marry off his adolescent daughter.
And, according to Mayuri's aunt, Aruna: "Those awareness programs and parents' meeting we attended have opened up our minds."
The teenager's mother sums it up: "One can write a book on the works of World Vision in my slum and how it has helped my family."
>> In your prayers, give thanks for Mayuri, and the thousands of girls like her, who are enrolled in programs like World Vision child sponsorship, which give them the opportunity to experience life in its fullness. Pray for the ongoing success of such programs and for more girls to benefit from them.
>> Sponsor a girl in India. Your love and support will enable her to stay in school, avoid early marriage, and grow up to be a healthy and productive adult.
>> Donate now to World Vision's Girls and Women Education Fund. Your gift will help provide opportunities that enable girls to stay in school, avoid early marriage, and experience life in all its fullness.
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