Kanya: String of Hope
Kanya: String of Hope is a vocational program for girls who are at risk of child marriage, teaching them to make string jewelry to be sold by Happy Kids Center. 100% of the profits from the sale of the Kanya Jewelry goes to the girls and preventing their marriage before the age of 18 years old.
Child marriage is pervasive in South Asia. It is something we all knew existed in Nepal, but not something we expected to encounter in the HKC Community. In the spring of 2017 we were forced to face this issue head on.
The story of Kanya: String of Hope began for Happy Kids Center, much like that of EducateHKC; with the same unique, Indian family of eight girls.
All eight of the girls in this family attended school with the help of a foreign benefactor, however, one by one the girls were removed from school in their early teens to be married. In late 2016 the girls lost their father, the family’s primary provider. It was after this loss that two of our girls who attended Happy Kids Center every day, ages 15 and 17 were taken out of school to be married.
This was our first encounter with child marriage and helplessly, we watched as these teenage girls were married, leaving their education and childhood behind forever. In response Kanya: String of Hope was born to prevent more of our girls being married too young because of financial hardships.
While this was our first encounter with child marriage, it is certainly not the first time it has occurred, and unfortunately, likely will not be the last.
The tradition of child marriage is pervasive and is passed down, generation to generation. For this reason we want to share with you the story of the mother of these 8 girls; a strong, beautiful, warm woman who we will call her Priya
Priya is a strong, warm, beautiful woman who is now in her early forties. Priya was married to her husband at just 11 years old. A few years later she began having children, and has given life to eight beautiful girls. For this reason she is regarded by her community as cursed, because she never birthed a boy.
Priya spent her whole life trying to ensure that her girls would have more than she did. She worked tirelessly to provide for her many daughters as they went to school, even if that sometimes meant digging through the garbage in the evenings in search of food.
However, despite her desire to give her children a better life, child marriage is in her culture. In this culture, a girl’s value decreases after the age of 14, and therefore the dowery (meaning the money that the bride’s family pays to the groom’s family) increases significantly every year. Priya married her three eldest daughters, each before the age of 16, removing them from school at which point they moved in with the groom’s family, far from their mother, to India.
When it was time for her next two daughters to be married, we were heart broken. At this point, Happy Kids Center was well established in the community, but as foreigners, we did not feel we could step in and stop this marriage. It is not our place to tell a mother what is best for her daughters, or tell a community that their culture is wrong. This was far and away the most difficult decision we have had to make at HKC.
It was through collaboration with women like Priya and the other mothers of our Happy Kids with similar stories that we have come to understand the complexities of child marriage and the financial strain that it puts on families. Most of these mothers do not want to let go of their little girls so soon, but see no other option.
It was with this in mind that Kanya:String of Hope was designed, not as a way to force change on the community, but instead, to provide hope and access to a different kind of life for this generation of girls.
- The word “Kanya” in Nepali means Unmarried Girl. We therefore call our team of girls, “The Kanya Girls”
- The Kanya Team is currently made up of 8 adolescent, Indian girls.
- The girls range from 11-16 years old
- These girls do not go to school, and spent their childhood working in the street, collecting plastic and cardboard to sell to the government, or begging tourists.
- The Kanya Girls are responsible for all household upkeep, washing clothes and dishes, cooking, and caring for younger siblings, in addition to their work with Kanya: String of Hope
- Girls become at risk as soon as they have their first menstrual cycle. A girls risk for child marriage increases significantly in impoverished communities such as ours.
- Happy Kids Center pays the girls for every bracelet they make.
- The girls receive 50% of their earning from each bracelet at the end of each month.
- 25% of the earnings from each bracelet is put into a fund the girls will receive at the end of the year if they are not married.
- 25% of the earnings from each bracelet is put into a trust fund the girls will receive on their 18th birthday if they are not married. The total money in this fund is then matched by Happy Kids Center at the end of each year.
- The money earned monthly can be used to help feed their family; The Annual and Trust Funds can be used to afford a higher dowery due to an older age.
- In the last year, four Happy Kids Center girls have been married. Two Kanya Girls are set to be married in Fall 2018. We hope that Kanya:String of Hope will persuade the families to delay the wedding until the girls reach 18 years old.
- Once girls reach 13 years old working in the street is deemed inappropriate. When the girls no longer bring in an income they become a nuisance, just another mouth to feed.
- By giving the girls an income they become an indispensable financial asset to the family.
- During this time conversations focus on female empowerment and financial literacy, giving the Kanya Girls more self efficacy and power over their own lives.