Tara’s* eyes have an innocent gleam, and a mischievous twinkle. She is just 18, after all.
But Tara is not a typically carefree teenager. Married at 14, she gave birth to a baby one year later. She is currently pregnant with her second child, and her formal education has come to a halt.
Petite and smart Tara belongs to one of the most marginalized Dalit communities in Nepal. Even so, her father enrolled her in a school, where she studied up to grade seven. “When I got married and came to live with my husband, he suggested that I go to study,” says Tara, “He even enrolled me in the local school. But after I became pregnant, I just stopped going to school.” She also shares that she could not afford text books, which made her lose interest in education. Tara now looks after her husband’s 11-membered family; which includes her parents-in-law, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law.
She is repentant that she left her studies. “I honestly did not know the right age to get married,” she reveals, “It was very difficult for me in the initial days of marriage because I had to work a lot.” She now knows that no girl should get married before 20. “When I see others going to school, I become wistful,” she says, “If I had had a chance to study, I wouldn’t have to work under open skies.”
Tara is just a representative of thousands of girls in her district, which lies in the eastern part of Nepal. Her district was reported to have highest rates of child marriage in the entire country. Thankfully, there have been no complications from her teenage pregnancy, although Tara still does not know about contraceptive measures, and plans to have many more children.
Meanwhile, in another district that lies in Nepal’s western region, 15-year-old Raisa*, who belongs to a Muslim family, dropped out of school after completing the first grade.
“I did want her to study more,” Raisa’s mother says with a tinge of regret, “but I gave birth to twin sons, and could not look after them by myself. I had to take Raisa out of school so she could help me with household chores.”
Raisa’s mother goes from door to door selling bangles, while her husband works as a mechanic. They live in a small one-roomed hut barely enough to accommodate the family. After Raisa’s twin brothers grew up and started going to school, she demanded to go to school. However, just around that time, her mother gave birth to twin sons again. Raisa was once more stopped from going to school due to household responsibilities.
“It has been almost 10 years since I stopped attending my classes,” she says, “But each time I see my friends going to school, I want to run along with them. I want to study hard and become a madam (teacher). I am even angry at my brothers because I had to leave school when they were born.”
The feisty 15-year-old has just started attending adult literacy classes near her home, and is determined to make the best of it. She also wants to learn tailoring to start earning money of her own.
Raisa and Tara are just two girls that we see every day, but choose to forget. Sometimes, we become so entrapped in our own lives that we do not realize so many children out there really need us. And that is why Save the Children has launched a new campaign – aiming to reach every last child out there, who might be missing out on education, on being healthy, and being protected. Each one of us is responsible to reach each child each there and make sure that no one is missing out on these basic qualities of life.
Of course, the government makes laws, there are agencies to implement the laws for betterment of child rights, there will always be organizations that work for children. However, this is not enough. We need to make sure that we are doing our bit – a little bit of time to help ensure that such children are safely going to school and health facilities; a whole lot of motivation to raise their self-esteem, a big push to bring them to the forefront in decision making.
In Nepal, this is what we will be doing – making sure that all our girls, adolescents and young women like Tara and Raisa are able to grow up healthy and happy, worry-free and educated. Because that is what every last child deserves to be.