Anuradha was just 13 years old when child marriage, then motherhood, ended her dreams of becoming a teacher. Or so she thought.
“Dawn had just broken and the skies began to turn bright. My mother, rather hurriedly, woke me up saying, 'Anuradha! Wake up! You need to do a lot of chores and get ready'.
“While my body resisted waking up, my inner voice screamed loudly, 'There is school today! Wake up!'It did not take a second longer for me to wake up and rush out of the bed.
"For the next two hours, I did all the household chores along with my mother – washing dishes, washing clothes, milking the buffalos and a lot of other things.
"Just when I was going to get my school uniform, my mother yelled to me, 'Wear the new dress that we bought for you'.
"'But the teacher will shout at me for wearing that dress,'I corrected her.
“Little did I know that my mother wanted me to dress for an event that was going to change my life."
Married at 13
Anuradha was only 13 years old at the time and studying in year eight. Just a few days later, she was married - a child bride. Within a year, she gave birth to her first child.
Her husband, Krishna, was supportive of her, permitting her to study until the tenth standard. Unfortunately, when Anuradha was due to take her final tenth-grade exams, she was eight months pregnant with her second child.
Due to stress being unsafe for her pregnancy, her family convinced her to miss her exams and she dropped out of school.
That’s when Anuradha was introduced to World Vision India. Anuradha attended an information session in her village on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, where she learnt the importance of providing newborn babies with nutritious and healthy food.
“Ever since that programme, I began attending all the programmes conducted by World Vision in my community, because I felt empowered by the knowledge I was acquiring,” says Anuradha joyfully.
Anuradha attended a training on child rights, where she learnt about the right to an education. World Vision’s community facilitator, Sunil, encouraged her to re-take her tenth-grade exams through open schooling.
“When Sunil came and spoke to us about helping Anuradha complete her education, I felt it was unjust to ask her to quit school. So, I took the initiative to enrol her into the tenth grade to complete schooling,” her husband Krishna says.
No longer “just a wife”
Anuradha has pursued her dreams ever since. A gifted speaker, Anuradha joined World Vision India as a volunteer and began training children on education and child rights.
She went door-to-door in her village to familiarise parents with these ideas, and worked to ensure that all children in her village are enrolled in school.
Soon everyone in her village and neighbouring villages knew who Anuradha was.
"Earlier I used to be known as ‘Krishna’s wife’, but now everyone here calls me ‘Anuradha'."
Preventing child marriages
Anuradha also soon realised that child marriage was cutting short the dreams of many girls in her village.
In 2016, she joined the Child Protection Unit - formed by World Vision India - in her village. The members were trained about child protection issues and how to tackle them.
They were also made aware of agencies like ChildLine, the District Child Protection Unit and the Child Welfare Committee, who can help legally deal with cases of child abuse and child marriage.
One 14-year-old girl approached Anuradha and shared that her family was secretly forcing her to marry. Anuradha informed local World Vision staff, and together they reported the case. ChildLine visited the village, counselled the family and stopped the child marriage.
Within two years, she had reported four other cases to ChildLine. They not only stopped those marriages, but also conducted large-scale training on the consequences of child marriage.
In 2017, Anuradha was recognised by the District Collector with a bravery award for her work.
I know the difficulties of being married off at such a young age and I don’t want other girls to endure this.
A brighter future - for herself and others
Apart from being a busy mum of three boys and an active anti-child marriage advocate in her community, Anuradha also works as a local news channel host, where she speaks passionately about child rights and the rights of women.
She is now completing her higher education and hopes to pursue a degree in education to fulfil her childhood dream of becoming a teacher.
But it’s not only Anuradha’s dreams that are coming true. One girl whose marriage she stopped a few years ago recently completed her schooling, and is now studying for a bachelor’s degree.
“My life has changed. Ever since I was educated about my rights, I’ve left no stone unturned,” Anuradha reflects.
“At first, I was very angry about my marriage but now I have left the regret behind, and I’m determined to make the lives of other girls in my community secure. I feel extremely proud when girls come and thank me for stopping their marriage.”