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Girls & Women

How This Father Is Fighting Child Marriage for His Daughter, and His Village

All too often, young, innocent girls are sold into marriage to older men. This happens for various reasons — cultural tradition, community pressure, and, sometimes, economics.

In one recent child marriage, a 55-year-old man claimed his 6-year-old bride “was a gift.” In another, a father traded his daughter for a goat and other food with which to feed his starving family.

Like many girls forced into marriage at too young an age, Durga, recently profiled by NPR, tried to resist. She pleaded with her father, Lumbaram. She refused to put on her wedding dress. Her grandparents intervened and told her, "You don't have a choice. Everyone gets married like this. You're not special,” according to NPR’s report.

Read More: Everything You Need to Know About Child Marriage

Here’s where Durga’s story is different. Lumbaram said as he watched the ceremony, he was overcome with guilt. He noted, specifically, that his daughter’s groom came off as “sleazy.”

"He couldn't even join hands with her without being creepy," Lumbaram recalls. "I thought, 'This guy is bad news.' "

Lumbaram then set off on a mission to fix the problem he had created. Six years later, his mission to undo Durga’s marriage is almost finished.

Read More: Married at 3, Divorced at 7: Two Ethiopian Girls Tell Their Stories

While Durga did marry her groom at a young age, she was met with a reprieve, thanks to a charity called the Veerni Project which sends girls in Jodhpur to boarding school for free. Her father convinced her groom to let her attend.

“As long as she’s getting a free education I’m not sending her to live with you yet,” Lumbaram said he told his daughter’s groom.

Since then, Durga’s excelled and earned excellent grades on her exams.  Now a young woman of 21, she’s in her second year of college. Her father has spent the last six years not only making sure she stays focused on her grades, but also working to change the hearts and minds of men in his village on the subject of child marriage. Lumbaram is hoping he can convince the village elders, called “panches,” to dissolve the marriage.

While technically, child marriage is illegal in India, it was still common practice in their village when Durga was married. In fact 47% of marriages in India involved a woman under the age of 18.

In Lumbaram’s village, while the family doesn’t need the panches to formally approve of ending the marriage, he would be ostracized from the community if he didn’t get their blessing, which can cost up to $7,000

Read More: You’ll Now Get 30 Years in Prison if You Marry a Child in Tanzania

But Lumbaram is hopeful. He’s betting that Durga’s status as the most educated person in the village will help her changes.

Also, child marriage has stopped all together in their village in recent years, because of his endless campaigning to convince fathers to stop the practice. He’s also lobbied other families in the village to send their daughters to boarding schools too, as a way to educate them and help them avoid marrying at too young an age.

He will officially petition the panches this fall, once Durga’s final exam scores are in.

The story of Lumbaram and Durga is unique, and inspiring. Child marriage is a key component to keeping women and their families in the depths of poverty. A woman who marries young usually doesn’t get an education. She can’t earn a living, stand up to her husband, or pass her knowledge onto her children.

Read the entire story on NPR.org to get the full picture of what they’ve overcome and why it’s so incredibly important for women and girls everywhere.