INDIA: Salesian program helps provide safe haven and education for young girl being forced into child marriage
(MissionNewswire) Samkuru Vani escaped being a child bride and is now studying technology at Don Bosco Navajeevan in the city of Vijayawada, located in the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. According to an Asia News article, Vani is the youngest of eight children whose father abandoned the family when she was young. Her mother works as a day laborer in the fields. As a child, Salesian missionaries helped Vani with food, lodging and education.
When Vani returned home in grade 10, her family no longer wished to spend money on her education. According to the article, Vani explained that her family feared that if she were better qualified in her education, she would want a better husband and her dowry would be higher. They tried to marry her off even though she was a minor. She cried and pleaded and eventually her mother gave in. Vani ran away to Don Bosco Navajeevan where Father Koshy Thomas was able to set up a meeting with her family, who promised to let her continue her education.
When she was back home though, her family tried once again to marry her to a local man. Vani refused even while being beaten at home, abused and tortured at times. Vani ran away once more to the Don Bosco center. Fr. Koshy admitted her into the computer science and engineering course. She studied and was the top of her class, but not a single member of her family ever came to visit or inquired about her well-being. But Vani longed to see her family, especially her mother. Eventually, her father came and said she could stay at his home and continue her studies.
“Once I reached home, my father beat me and threatened to kill me if I went back to Don Bosco,” said Vani in the Asia News article. “I really believed his threat because I still have the image of my mother bleeding from her head when my father hit her with an axe. So, I went back to my mother and brothers, and the old ritual began all over—a steady stream of boys to take a look at me. I felt like a cow on sale in the market place. It is sad that a female in India has no status of her own. She is only the daughter, the wife or the mother of a male. I was tortured, beaten, cursed and placed under house arrest. I wished I were a street dog. A dog was freer than I was. I cursed my misfortune of being a girl. I prayed. I cried. I thought of suicide.”
It was Vani’s grandmother who rescued her and brought her back to Don Bosco Navajeevan. There Fr. Koshy gave her a place to live and food to eat, and admitted her back into her studies. Vani is now in her second year of at Don Bosco Tech and is studying for her bachelor’s degree in technology. She also works part-time to provide for herself.
“I had several reasons for refusing to get married,” explained Vani in the article. “I wanted to study. I was too young to be a wife and mother. I would have to live with the entire family of the boy—a boy and a family that I did not know at all. Above all, I was being forced to get married, not just advised or requested to. I did not feel respected.”
“The reason I want to study is very simple,” added Vani. “I want to do something more with my life than what I saw most people do. Education will give me a better life. It will enable me to extend to other girls the mercy I experienced from the Salesian sisters and fathers. I will study, find a job and earn well. I will then be able to help girls like me. I do not want any girl to suffer as I did.”
According to the International Center for Research on Women, in 2012, 70 million women 20 to 24 years old around the world had been married before the age of 18. As that trend continues, 150 million girls will be married before their 18th birthday over the next decade. That’s an average of 15 million girls each year. While countries with the highest prevalence of child marriage are concentrated in Western and Sub-Saharan Africa, due to population size, the largest number of child brides reside in South Asia.
Salesian programs in India and around the globe are a safe haven for many girls who are escaping a life of poverty, forced marriage, life on the streets and other exploitation. Salesian programs provide shelter, nutrition and medical care, as well as allow girls and young women to study and gain an education.
International Center for Research on Women – Child Marriage Around the World