This School In Jodhpur Provides Free Education To Child Brides Of India
Veerni Institute, based in Jodhpur, a city in the desert landscape of Rajasthan, 600 kilometers west of New Delhi, has helped almost 100 child brides complete their secondary education. Two-thirds of them have gone on to pursue higher education.
Many of these girls are married off well before the legal age of 18; some are as young as nine or 10. But they’re not sent to their in-laws’ residence until 15 or 16.
“We have found a loophole in the system,” says Mahendra Sharma, the director of the Veerni Institute. The gap he’s referring to is the lack of a secondary education for young women who have been married. “We firmly believe that it is of prime importance for all girls to complete senior secondary education in class 12.”
The Veerni Institute is set up as a boarding school, offering not only a place to stay but also health care, daily meals, uniforms, books, computer training, and access to sports. The annual cost for each girl is $1,560. However, the girls attend for free, because the fees are covered by the school’s philanthropic partners: the Global Foundation for Humanity in the U.S. and the Association du Projekt Veerni in Switzerland.
When the Veerni project started setting up literacy centers in these villages, Sharma says it faced some serious resistance.
“Stones were thrown once at the team’s jeep as an expression of anger,” he recalls. “It took a long time to persuade the men to allow their daughters to attend.”
With the help of older women in the community, the men finally came around. But they were not fully convinced.
The first year, Sharma didn’t meet his goal of 60 girls—only 30 girls enrolled. Parents were hesitant to send their daughters away. Yet, after the first year, the same parents were intrigued.
“After seeing our facilities and the quality of our education, the parents trusted us,” Sharma says.
Quickly, the house was at full capacity: 70 girls. One year, it even reached 100 students.
Shoba married at the age of nine to a boy in the same village, she graduated from the Veerni Institute and then moved in with her husband as an adult. Her husband turned out to be abusive and a drunk. After falling into a depressive state, she finally reported her husband’s wrongdoings to the local police station. The police called her family, who told her to endure the marriage, despite her husband’s behavior.
Shoba tried another outlet: the legal system. She filed a case, seeking divorce. After one year, her wish was granted. She completed her bachelor’s degree and is now pursuing her master’s, with aspirations of becoming a teacher.
Sharma is hopeful that Shoba’s example will not be the only one.
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