X

India’s ‘Child Bride Saver’ Has Stopped Over 900 Child Weddings in the Last 4 Years

At just 29 years of age, Kriti Bharti has managed to single-handedly stop over 900 child marriages in India’s northern state of Rajasthan. She has also annulled 29 marriages  conducted between underage boys and girls, and has worked towards the rehabilitation of over 6,000 children and 5,500 women.

“My work means so much to me,” said Kriti, who carries out her work through her charity organisation Saarthi Trust. “I dedicate my life to helping these defenseless children from their families who force them into the most barbaric circumstances because of tradition.”

Although child marriages have been deemed illegal a long time ago, statistics show that over 40 percent of the world’s underage unions take place in India. The practice is especially rampant in Rajasthan, where Kriti does everything she can to rescue young girls and give them a better chance at life. “After you stop a child marriage, the girl child is treated like a social outcast,” she explained. “It becomes important to rehabilitate her and help her become part of the society again.”

Kriti-Bharti

At the Saarthi Trust, children, families, and even the governing bodies of villages are provided with counselling. Volunteers organise camps in schools and public spots to educate people on the ill-effects of child marriages and also run a helpline for people to report child marriages taking place anywhere in Rajasthan. But one of their most difficult challenges is marriage annulment, because it requires the consent of both the bride and the groom’s parents, as well as the village elders. In some of the worst cases, Kriti and her team have been attacked, and have had to seek legal help as well. The trust has so far successfully annulled 29 child marriages.

In her latest act of heroism, Kriti risked her own life to save a 17-year-old child bride who had run away from her alcoholic adult husband, and took her to a government safe house. “When I picked up this young girl, she was hiding behind a tree at 4am in a desert in the middle of Rajasthan, absolutely terrified,” Kriti recalled. “She had been pushed to her limits, and preferred to risk her life out in the desert than stay with her family a moment longer. As soon as she got in the car, she hugged me tightly. She couldn’t speak she was crying so much.”

Kriti-Bharti2

Kriti’s primary concern is to keep the girl safe while trying to get the marriage annulled, because the girl comes from the Bhandiawas community of Rajasthan, in which honor killings are quite common. “I will make this case my priority and ensure her safety,” Kriti said. “Her education, counselling, and rehabilitation is of utmost priority for me and my team. I will speak to her family and the husband’s family to try to make them understand,” she added. “Some parents eventually understand and help their daughters escape the clutches of the marriage, but others don’t. It would be great if this family allowed the annulment to take place and support the girl, but if they don’t we will turn to the law.”

Kriti, who is passionate about saving children from a terrible fate, suffered greatly during her own childhood. Her father, a doctor, abandoned her mother just before Kriti was born. Her mother’s relatives had advised to abort the pregnancy and get remarried. Kriti was poisoned as a child, after which she was forced to quit school. But she finally got a chance to further her education later in life, and is now getting a PhD in Child Protection and Safety.

Kriti-Bharti3

For her courageous and relentless efforts, Kriti has received several awards including a Fellowship from the British government. Her phenomenal work has also been included in India’s Limca Book of Records for ‘fastest legally annulled child marriages’ and ‘first ever child marriage annulment’. Her inspiring story is narrated to kids across the nation as a part of standard school curriculum.

“For as long as I have to, I will keep saving victims of child marriages,” she said. “It’s a tradition that needs to stop, and we have to educate rural communities and teach them that there is a better way. We have a duty to change this.”

Kriti-Bharti4

Kriti isn’t he only real-life hero fighting against imposed marriages in India. Last year, we wrote about the Love Commandos, groups of vigilantes helping young couples elope and hide from their vindictive families who would likely kill them for refusing to accept the idea of arranged marriage.

Photos: Kriti Bharti/Facebook

Sources: Your Story, SMH

Posted in News        Tags: , , , ,