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In few villages like Chachiyawas and Hasiyawas near Ajmer, child marriages are prevalent and like thousands of child brides, Nisha Gujjar (10) and her friend Kiran (12) were too engaged to be married when they were kids. They hardly remember a time when they were not “brides”. Following tradition were their only choice but hardly anyone knew, they were creating their own fate.

Like Nisha and Kiran, hundreds of other girls have enrolled themselves in a football training programme for the last two years. The girls feel that this sport is empowering for them and has given them the courage to speak out. While some of the girls have refused to go to their husband’s homes till they are 18 years old, others look forward to a career in sport.

Earlier this year, a report by National Family Health Survey, 2015-16 was released which mentioned, child marriage is on the rise in Rajasthan. The mean age for girls below 18 who get married is 16.6 years in rural belt of the state and in urban areas at 16.7 years. The situation had worsened since 2014-15 when the mean age in rural areas was 16.9 years.

In an interview with TOI, 13-year-old Mamta Gujjar, who plays as a forward, said that she got engaged in 2017. “I wouldn’t have had the courage to speak out but playing football gave me the confidence to actually ask my parents to let me see the boy and his household before they fix the marriage.” Playing football has helped her communicate with other girls who were dealing with similar situations like her and she has found a new support system in them. “I want to complete my education before settling down into marital life,” she said.

Apart from that, Niraj Gujjar (15), who has been married for three years and has stayed at her in-laws’ house for a few days said that she had to work and stay veiled all the time. “But I can be myself on the field. I have also convinced my parents that I will study further before doing anything else.”

no child marriages for football
With high hopes and big dreams, Sapna Gujjar (15) said, “Before we started playing football, we used to wear traditional clothes and were happy if we were just allowed to study. Our parents thought the sport was just for boys. Now they have changed their mind, seeing how happy we are. I have a dream that if I continue to play well and am physically fit, I can join the Indian Air Force.”

These girls have started to oppose the practice of child marriage. While warming up for practice, Suman Gujjar says, “Whenever a child marriage happens in the village, all of us refuse to attend it or join in the so-called celebrations. I don’t want to be married even when I turn 18. I want to play football professionally, like Messi or Ronaldo.

The idea of this wonderful initiative came from an NGO, Mahila Jan Adhikar Samiti. The woman who is in charge of the programme, Karuna Philip said, “Just talking to the villagers about child marriage wasn’t getting us very far. The girls needed to speak for themselves, and there is nothing better at building confidence than sports.”

The whole journey started by organizing a camp two years back, which was attended by 300 girls.