Komal, India

Komal 1

Atta-Satta. That’s the name for exchange marriages in the community in India where Komal lives.

Komal was an avid student who would rather read a book than watch TV. She dreamed of going to college and getting a good job. But, at the young age of 16, Komal’s parents married her off in exchange for a bride for her brother.

A bride for a bride. Atta-Satta.

Married at 16, Komal was suddenly faced with a future that looked very different from the one she had imagined. She hoped her new husband would allow her to complete her studies, but she was pregnant even before turning 17.

“Since then, I have hardly ever been allowed to step out of the house. Everyone goes out shopping, and for movies and neighborhood functions, but not me,” explains Komal. “Sometimes, when the others are not at home, I read my old school books, and hold my baby and cry.”

No girl should be forced to drop out of school, marry while still a child, or have children before she is ready. But just like Komal, this is what life looks like for many young girls in India. In fact, 70% of girls ages 6-16 drop out of school. And one-third of women alive today who were married before 18 years old live in India.

In some places in India, there is a strong preference for having sons; girls are often considered to be financial burdens on their families, and are deemed unworthy of investment. So when Komal gave birth to a girl, she was met with anger from those around her. She was filled with love for her daughter, and yet she was blamed for not having a son.

Though Komal was forced to abandon her future plans and raise a family while still a child herself, it’s not too late for her daughter – or for thousands of other girls just like her.

“Hopefully, customs like Atta-Satta and child marriage will be totally gone by the time my daughter grows up, and she gets to complete her education and marry only when she wants to,” says Komal.

Girls everywhere should be able to control their own lives and create the future they want. When a girl can say no to child marriage and yes to education, the impact is felt throughout her family, her country and our world.

India is filled with bright, talented and hopeful girls like Komal – girls who love to read, go to school and work hard. Let’s work to build a better world by taking the first step: empowering a girl.

In 2015, Girl Up made the exciting decision to expand our fundraising efforts to reach and support young girls in India. This new program, run by UNFPA and funded by Girl Up, seeks to protect girls’ rights and help girls delay child marriage. With an emphasis on targeting out-of-school girls, this initiative will educate girls in the Rajasthan region of India on important health issues and give them access to the resources they need to have control over their own lives and futures.

Learn more about the program.