As the state government of Karnataka announced the reopening of schools, 7-year-old Anitha is filled with joy. Joy not just to meet her friends who she hasn’t met in two years but the joy to see the opportunity of getting an education, unlike her two elder sisters who were forced into child marriage when the lockdown was announced and schools were closed. This announcement comes after seeing the drastic decrease in the number of people infected with Covid-19 in the state. It is no shocker that shutting down of schools followed by the imposition of lockdown caused distress in the lives of children, more so in the ones living in rural areas as online classes were a far fetched dream. The children living in the rural areas of Karnataka were also at risk of being tied into a child marriage as the state records one of the highest numbers of child marriages happening in India.
Our project IMAGE that works to empower the victims of Child Marriage in Karnataka stopped over 13 child marriages from taking place in the lockdown period itself. Many Kishoris (girls below 18) like Anitha who are part of the children clubs of IMAGE shared their fears of being forced into child marriage as the schools closed down and there was increasing pressure on their parents, both economically as well as from their fellow relatives. Amidst these challenging situations, IMAGE continued to spread awareness about the harms of child marriage through the movement leaders who were once victims of child marriage but now are advocates of child rights.
As the schools reopen, the project staff along with the movement leaders, are continuously visiting schools to orient children and staff on the safety measures while spreading awareness on the ill effects of child marriages. The ray of hope shines even brighter for these children now as they walk to the schools daily to access their right to education rather than being forced to marry before the legal age.