India (MNN/Mission India) — Weddings should be a celebration. Brides and grooms should be excited to spend the rest of their lives together. But for girls in India, it’s nearly a death sentence.
Child marriage in the country is illegal, but that doesn’t stop a number of forced marriages from taking place. Often, a whole village will attend a wedding ceremony early in the morning and make it a well-kept secret.
National Geographic shares the face and story of child bride Rajani who was five years old when she was married off. Like many young brides, Rajani will stay with her family until puberty. At that age, another ceremony will take place and she will be handed over to her husband.
It’s not an unknown secret in India–and much of Asia–that girls are the less-preferred sex. The country has a rising rate of infanticides and abortions of mainly girls. According to Mission India, in Delhi, there are only 866 females for every 1,000 males. Because of the decreasing number of women, there is increasing pressure to traffic young girls for marriage. Normally, a girl is married to a man ten years or more her senior.
In Bihar, 60% of India’s girls are married by 18, and many end up having more than one child by age 20.
Stories of young brides are being exposed around the globe, yet it’s the aftermath that’s the worst part.
Girls are beaten and abused. They’re treated like slaves, as if their only role was to have children. The most devastating act of abuse is known as bride burning, or dowry death. If grooms or in-laws are not satisfied with the dowry paid for the bride, they set an example by setting her on fire.
Every day, there are an estimated 22 cases.
Mission India shares the heartbreaking story of Roopa, a newlywed who was one of the few Indian brides happy to marry her husband. After a fight with her in-laws one day, they coaxed her out of her house at night and set her ablaze. By God’s grace, she survived, but not before being severely burned and scarred.
Roopa’s in-laws told the community she’d tried to commit suicide. While it was clear she hadn’t, many other young brides do. They’re desperate to escape the beatings and abuse that haunt them.
Girls don’t get a chance to be a child, grow up, or go to school and learn. They most often remain illiterate, feeling worthless, helpless, and hopeless.
Mission India partners are stepping in to restore hope, give love, and share the good news of Christ with many such women. Incredible transformations result from Adult Literacy Courses. Women who have never had the chance to learn how to read or write are now gaining knowledge, confidence, and the ability to work, start businesses, and help their families financially.
Through Church Planters, families in India are being taught that both men and women are created in God’s image and are deeply loved by Him. This is transforming the way women view themselves and how they are treated by their families. For many, this is the first message of love and redemption they have ever heard. In a land where they have been treated like captives, they are set free.