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Married at 13? Bhavani said "No".

Renee Schreurs

Bhavani just had her 13th birthday. She is a top student in her class (she even skipped a grade) and her ambition is to become a children’s doctor.

Bhavani has lived with us since she was 8 years old. She loves her life hanging out with friends, taking care of her little brother and sister, going to school, dancing and beating us all at basketball. We have seen Bhavani grow up; from the days when her baby teeth fell out, her first day at school, making new friends, being protective of her baby siblings – she has become such a wonderful young lady.

However, two weeks ago we received a phone call from Bhavani’s father, Selvam. He is around 30 years old and has four children: Bhavani who is the eldest, Sandhiya, Saravanan and a 3 year old baby. Leciya, our social worker, answered the phone and Bhavani’s father asked to speak with his eldest daughter.

We like for the children to be able to stay in touch with their parents but have one of the care workers sit with them to support them while they talk. So as normal, Leciya sat with Bhavani as she spoke with her dad. But the purpose of his call wasn’t to ask about school, her latest test scores or how the most recent basketball match had gone. Instead Bhavani was told that it was time for her to get married.

In the Londor begging community, where the children sponsored by the My Name is Kumar Foundation come from, it is normal to get married when you are as young as 13 and have your first child by the time you are 15 years old.

A few weeks ago when I was visiting the community I met a girl named Selvi. She is 14, just one year older than Bhavani and yet she was holding her own baby. She has never been to school, she isn’t able to read or write and has just delivered a baby girl into the world while she herself is still a child. She is still growing up and her baby will grow up not far behind her. Selvi’s husband was out begging, and came home that night as he does most nights, drunk and unable to help her take care of their child. This is the life of many young girls and boys in the Londor begging community.

My Name is Kumar Foundation supports 37 children from Londor by showing them a different kind of life, offering them an education and teaching them new life skills. We do this before they turn 13 so that when the time comes they can make a conscious decision about whether to go back to their old life, get married and have a baby or carry on learning and growing as children.

Bhavani told her father that she wasn’t ready for married life and that she would like to continue her education, stay with her friends and continue on her path to becoming a doctor. We are so proud of Bhavani for being brave enough to make that choice and promise to continue to support her and encourage her to follow her dreams.

But My Name is Kumar Foundation isn’t only there for the 37 children in the children’s home. We try to protect all of the children in the Londor begging community, even the ones who can’t live with us just yet. We think it’s important to work with their parents too, and a vital part of the work we do is to talk with them about why educating their children is so important, why child marriage is illegal and how child pregnancy can ruin the life of young girls.

We hate seeing and hearing the stories of Bhavani’s peers like Selvi, but we are working to reduce the number of children having to live this life as well as helping girls like Selvi make the most of their life as it is – so that one day when her baby is older they will get to go to school instead of having to beg.