Every 5th girl in rural Rajasthan is married at the age of 15. Ponri was not only lucky, she was determined not to end as a child bride, but to fight for an education. Her story is an impressive journey of how to become a role model for girls.
58 million young women in developing countries – 1 in 3 – have been married before the age of 18 in the last decade, many against their will and in violation of the law. This is the sad reality underlined by the latest figures from the Population Reference Bureau. In Rajasthan, 1 in 5 young women who are now ages 20 to 24 say they had been married by their 15th birthday. With limited education and economic opportunities, child brides are not only condemned to a life of poverty, but one of social isolation, and powerlessness, infringing on their human rights, health, and well-being.
Ponri is one of the many young women who would have normally envisaged a lonely life as a pre-adult bride. She is the youngest of 8 children. Her 4 brothers and 3 sisters have never seen a school from the inside, so the last thing her father had planned for her was a school career; economical resources were limited and he felt that his youngest daughter was required to help at home until she reached the age to serve at her prospective husband's house. But Ponri had other plans. She was determined to go to school. Realizing that there was no chance, her father would ever let her go to school, at 13, Ponri ran away from home twice, hoping to find a hideout at one of the Shiksha Mitra Kendra’s.
“If I wouldn’t have run away, I would be married by now, tending goats out in the nowhere”, she says. This is when Malaram, an Educate Girls Field Coordinator took up on Ponri.
He visited her family over and over again. Eventually, her father could no longer take the continuous visits and agreed to let her go to school. “Thanks to Malaram’s persistence, I could make my ambition turn into reality” says Ponri, and with a shy smile on her face she admits: “Even if I went through tough times, I know now, that it is worth fighting. I want to be a teacher to encourage other girls to fight for their education”.
Being the first father to send his girl to school, Ponri's had initially been afraid of what the community would say. But now, as his daughter is doing so well, he admits that he too feels proud of her.
Ponri's father admits: “I feel a little proud in the community, people look up to me now. I also appreciate the health and hygiene tips my daughter provides me.”
The ambitious girl has managed to catch up with the other 5th grade students in only 2 years. Today she leads the Bal Sabha group as “Bal Panch” and motivates other girls to fight for their own education.