National Geographic : 2011 Jun
called sathins, who monitor the well-being of area families; their duties include reminding vil- lagers that child marriage is not only a crime but also a profound harm to their daughters. It was a Rajasthan sathin, backed by the sathin's own enlightened in-laws, who persuaded the 11-year- old Sunil's parents to give up the marriage plan and let her go back to school. Because the impossible aw in the grab-the- girl-and-run fantasy is: en what? "If we sepa- rate a girl and isolate her from her community, what will her life be like?" asks Molly Melching, the founder of a Senegal-based organization called Tostan, which has won international re- spect for its promotion of community-led pro- grams that motivate people to abandon child marriage and female genital cutting. Tostan workers encourage communities to make public declarations of the standards for their children, so that no one girl is singled out as di erent if not married young. "You don't want to encourage girls to run away," Melching says. " e way you change social norms is not by ghting them or humiliating people and saying they're backward. We've seen that an entire community can choose very quickly to change. It's inspiring." most elo- quently to me the excruciating balance required to grow up both independent and respectful within a culture of early marriage was a 17-year- old Rajasthan girl named Shobha Choudhary. Shobha was in her school uniform, a dark pleated skirt with a tucked-in white blouse, the rst time I met her. She had severe eyebrows, an erect bear- ing, and shiny black hair combed into a ponytail. She was in her nal year of high school and a scholarly standout; in her village she had been spotted years earlier by the Veerni Project, which disperses workers throughout northern India in search of bright girls whose parents might let them leave home for a free education at its girls' boarding school in the city of Jodhpur. Shobha is married and has been since she was eight. Picture the occasion: a group ceremony, a dozen village girls, great excitement in a place of Kandahar policewoman Malalai Kakar arrests a man who repeatedly stabbed his wife, 15, for disobeying him. "Nothing," Kakar said, when asked what would happen to the husband. "Men are kings here." Kakar was later killed by the Taliban. Twelve-year-old Reem got a divorce after she won over a hostile judge who had insisted that so young a bride is not mature enough to make a decision about divorce.