Indian woman who has dedicated her life to rescuing desperate girls
Jodhpur (Rajasthan) May, 9: A child marriage activist in India risked death threats to save a 17-year-old child bride from going to live with an ‘alcoholic’ husband to whom she had been married aged 12.
Kriti Bharti, 29, has annulled 29 child marriages and amazingly stopped over 900 unions involving underaged boys and girls in the last four years.
Her most recent act of heroism involved the 17-year-old girl who ran away from home to avoid having to go live with her 21-year-old husband who she was forced to marry five years ago.
The girl ran away from home in the middle of the night when Kriti saved her and took her to a government safe house in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, northern India.
‘My work means so much to me,’ Kriti said, who is the founder of Saarthi Trust, which is a charity to protect victims of child marriages. ‘
I dedicate my life to helping these defenseless children from their families who force them into the most barbaric circumstances because of ‘tradition’.
‘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.
‘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.’
Like all the other victims of child marriages, Kriti will now keep the girl safe in a shelter home before approaching the family and the courts to annul the marriage.
Kriti said: ‘I will speak to her family and the husband’s family to try to make them understand. 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.’
But the young girl comes from the Bhandiawas community, in Pachpadra, Rajasthan, where honour killings are prevalent. Kriti is even more worried about her safety.
‘I will make this case my priority and ensure her safety. Her education, counseling and rehabilitation is of utmost priority for me and my team,’ Kriti added.
The 17-year-old victim always wanted to attend school and get an education but her parents were forcing her to join her 21-year-old husband who she was forced to marry five years ago. She claims he’s unemployed, illiterate and an alcoholic.
She said: ‘I always wanted to be educated but my parents forced me to quit my studies and into ‘gauna’ (when a girl is sent to her in-laws when she comes of age after a child marriage).
‘I told my parents I didn’t want to go but they started to mentally torture me and started to beat me. It was getting worse day by day, I couldn’t take any more so that’s when I contacted Kriti and walked out of that house.’
Knowing the system well, Kriti made sure she followed protocol. She took the girl straight to the Child Welfare Committee, in the nearby town of Barmer, before taking her to the Child Welfare Committee in Jodhpur, who handed her over to the government’s all girls shelter home.
Since the girl has been in the custody of the government her brother has visited demanding her return but she has refused.
Kriti will now arrange a safe meeting with the girl’s family to discuss the next step.
‘I will give them a chance to come round and agree to their daughter’s wishes. But if they don’t I will turn to the courts myself and I’ll allow the law to do its job,’ she said.
The girl added: ‘I look forward to the time I am out of this unwanted wedlock and then I can resume my studies to become a police officer, so that one day I can get justice for other child brides.’
This week Kriti has been added to the World Records of India catalogue and awarded with the titles the ‘Fastest Legally Annulled Child Marriages’ and ‘First Ever Child Marriage Annulment’ in India.
‘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.’
To see more of Kriti’s courageous work please visit: Saarthi Trust.