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Too Young to Marry

In India, and other developing countries around the world, the pandemic has significantly increased the risk of child marriage. Holt’s vice president of programs and services, Thoa Bui, shares about what she learned about this during her last trip to India, and why it’s so important to help send girls to school this #GivingTuesday.

I sat on the floor with a group of 8th grade girls in India, and one thought kept coming to my mind: “They’re too young to get married — now, or even a few years from now.” Of course they are, they’re only about 13 years old. But I also knew that early marriage could be a real threat to each of them…

I hadn’t been to India since before the pandemic. And while I worked with our partners and received regular reports from them through the past few years, I was still shocked to see how much life has changed for the children and families we serve there — how much harder life has become due to increased poverty.

Condition of Families Post-Pandemic in India

During the pandemic, we helped people in India and around the world with emergency food deliveries and other critical aid. A lot of people didn’t have food and they were starving, locked down and nobody could leave their homes. Most lost their jobs — and are still struggling now to find work again.

Today, India allows people to go back to work, to freely travel and resume their normal lives. But the jobs are not there for daily wage earners. Most of the parents in our program were daily wage earners – people who receive pay each day as a maid, cook, construction worker, driver or other occupation. But these jobs are not as available as they used to be. Middle-income families have less demand for maids. Construction sites don’t hire as much.

A lack of jobs, combined with global inflation, means families are in even greater poverty than before. And increased poverty in India has a direct correlation to something unexpected: child marriage.

Early Marriage Rates Increase

The pandemic really increased child marriage in India. Why was this? First, because parents lost their livelihood and thus struggled to feed their children. Getting a daughter married meant one fewer mouth to feed. The second reason is wedding costs can be expensive, especially for the girl’s family due to the expectation for gifts and ceremonies. During the pandemic there was less expectation for an elaborate ceremony and dowry, and the cost could be less. It was cheaper to marry during the pandemic compared to during regular times. The third reason was parents were worried if they died during the pandemic, who would take care of their daughter? And lastly, parents also worried for their daughter’s safety when they were not in school during the pandemic, and they thought a husband could keep her safe — even if she was very young.

According to a recent UNICEF report, “Over the next decade, up to 10 million more girls will be at risk of becoming child brides as a result of the pandemic.”

And this is seriously dangerous for girls. Early marriage has a direct correlation with increased domestic violence, increased alcoholism, increased poverty and more.

During the pandemic, our partners in India did all they could to prevent the girls in our program from becoming child brides. In some cases, we were successful. But some families were desperate enough to make their daughters go through with it. 

Now in 2022, our partners in India are saying they are seeing less patterns of girls being married off early compared to the spike that happened in 2020 and 2021. But we still need to try to get it back to pre-pandemic levels.

And the best way to do this is by making sure that girls stay in school.

Going to School Helps Prevent Child Marriage

When a girl is in school, it means that her parents understand the importance of education and are investing in her future. It means that she is getting the education that can help her to someday rise above poverty. When a girl is continuing her high school education, it means that marriage will be delayed at least until she’s 18.

We need to encourage parents over and over again to send their children to school instead of marry early. Because in school, this is where the hope is.

A teacher in India said this to me during my trip. She teaches at a Holt-supported school, and says she has never been somewhere where so many children are supported with educational sponsorship to be there. She said that seeing so many children there who would otherwise not be able to go makes her job so meaningful — makes her feel like she’s part of something bigger.

How You Can Help This Giving Tuesday

This Giving Tuesday, I invite you to be a part of something bigger too — by helping to send a girl to school. It costs just $150 for a full scholarship, or just $15 for each month of the school year. Anything you can give will make a difference.

Our goal on this global day of giving is to help send 250 girls to school — in India and around the world. For each one of these girls who gets to go to school, it’s also helping to save her from child marriage. 

I think of the girls I sat with on the floor in India. They’re smart. They have dreams. They want to pursue careers when they grow up. And when I asked them, they have so much hope for the future.

And I pray that each of them has the chance she deserves to be protected from child marriage, continue her education, and be empowered to pursue her dreams.

Girls in blue uniforms in India

Prevent Child Marriage This Giving Tuesday

Child marriage rates increased dramatically since the pandemic. But you can save a girl from this by sending her to school.

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