Sav­ing the baby brides

Friday - - Welcome To Friday - Karen Pasquali Jones Ed­i­tor kpasqual­i­jones@gulfnews.com fol­low us on www.face­book.com/Fri­day­Magazine twit­ter.com/Fri­day_Magazine www.fri­day­magazine.ae www.youtube.com/user/Fri­day­magTV

They should be learn­ing to take their first steps or play­ing with dolls or toy trains. In­stead th­ese ba­bies are be­ing paired off in se­cret by their par­ents to get mar­ried. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Unicef re­port, a stag­ger­ing 40 per cent of the world’s child mar­riages oc­cur in In­dia. The gov­ern­ment took ac­tion, ban­ning men younger than 21 and women un­der 18 from get­ting wed, but that has just driven fam­i­lies de­ter­mined to marry their ba­bies and tod­dlers off for po­lit­i­cal and fi­nan­cial gain fur­ther un­der­ground.

The chil­dren have no idea they have been mar­ried off un­til they’re whisked away to a se­cret cer­e­mony to solem­nise the mar­riage as soon as they come of age. Th­ese stolen brides and grooms had no one to turn to un­til re­cently. But Kriti Bharti, a 26-year-old so­cial worker, has made it her mis­sion to save the child brides and grooms and an­nul their mar­riages, even though it means her life is con­stantly in dan­ger.

“Mil­lions of chil­dren in In­dia are mar­ried by their fam­i­lies when they’re still learn­ing to crawl and walk,” she told Fri­day. “And the fam­i­lies are very good at keep­ing it a se­cret. Death threats have be­come part of my life now, I ac­cept it as part of the job.” So far Kriti has helped to an­nul more than 150 child mar­riages, and has won an award for her work. Read her in­cred­i­bly brave story on page 18 and let me know what you think of that and the rest of the is­sue. En­joy!

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