Pint- sized and always smiling, Aarti is 16 years old. Living in a quaint, little village, Lohagal, nearby Ajmer, she belongs to the Scheduled Caste community. After her father’s demise due to tubercolosis, three years ago, Aarti’s mother, Vimla Megwal, became the sole breadwinner of the family.

Even before her husband’s death, Vimla was tirelessly earning wages to support her husband’s treatment and to make ends meet at home.

Aarti has three siblings at home: two sisters and a brother. Five years ago, the two elder sisters were forced to quit studies and were married off at a tender age. However, Aarti and her brother are attending school. Aarti studies in the 10th grade of a secondary school in the village and is a member of the Children’s group. Two years ago, a mrityu bhoj (feast after death) function was supposed to be organized after the death of Aarti’s grandfather. In Aarti’s community, a practice is observed in which multiple sisters (elder or younger) are married away in a ceremony during the Mrityu Bhoj. Aarti’s uncle has two elder daughters. One is 17 years old and the other one is 15 years old. It was decided that Aarti will be married off along with her cousins, during this ceremony. Her aunts were of the opinion that Aarti, who was fatherless at that time, should get married at the earliest.

Vimla Megwal’s vehement resistance against her daughter’s marriage was eventually suppressed by the unfavourable circumstances at home and immense pressure meted out to her by the family members. Aarti was against the marriage, but her opposition was met with rebukes from the elders. She finally mustered some courage and made a phone call to CRY supported project Mahila Jan Adhikar Samiti and explained her plight to the concerned officials, who visited Aarti’s family members and made them understand the legal consequences of promoting child marriage. Out of fear, the family members readily agreed to stop the marriage. Today everyone applauds her for the courage displayed.

Since then, whenever Aarti hears of any news involving child marriage, she quickly dials the helpline number, 1098, seeking help and assistance for these young girls. However, Aarti does this without anyone’s knowledge. She is extremely skilled at applying henna (mehandi), therefore, she gets called to many weddings in the nearby villages, where she never misses a chance to inform the young brides about the helpline number. Aarti has been associated with the Children’s Group for seven years now and never fails to attend any meeting. She says, “Members of the organization visit regularly us, provide all kinds of information, raise awareness on the challenges faced in schools and anganwaadis and strive to provide better facilities.” She further adds, “They organize many sports challenges and plays, inform us about various kinds of trainings and about all the rights we are entitled to. Through this association, I became more informed as an individual and was able to realize the adverse impacts of child marriage. I became aware of the helpline number. Now I associate myself with every activity in the group. My dream is to complete my education and become a teacher so that I can support my mother.”

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