According to the United Nations, about 80 percent of girls in India attend primary school while only around 48 percent of them attend high school. Early marriage is one factor that prevents girls in India from receiving a quality education. Moreover, India has the highest levels of domestic violence among women married by 18, with a rate of 67 percent.
Nilam was forced to quit school and marry an abusive, alcoholic husband at the age of 15. When Nilam was growing up in India, she dreamed of becoming a police officer, like her father. Her dad, an educated man himself, knew the value of educating his daughter and sent her to private school.
But when her father had to move to another state for his job, he left Nilam and her siblings in the care of her mother.
"My mother used to say all the time, ‘What would girls do by getting educated?'" recalls Nilam. "She was not educated herself and did not realise the importance of studying."
But Nilam had a different perspective. "Studies are very important because you become wise…"
Seeing no value in educating her 15-year-old daughter, Nilam's mother soon committed her to marriage. Her mother promised her that she could stay home and go to school until she was 18.
But Nilam's husband didn't want her attending class, so her mother took her out of school and sent her to live with her husband.
"He used to say, ‘I am not educated, so why should she be?' And my mother respected him," says Nilam.
"It started with my earrings," she says. "He said by selling (the earrings), he would get money to buy things for his house. But in reality, it was for buying alcohol."
One day, while visiting her mother, who tried to stop Nilam from giving her husband more jewelry, he dragged Nilam out of her mother's house, slapped and punched her at home.
Stripped of freedom and dignity
As time passed, Nilam was blessed with four children, but her husband refused to work.
Stripped of her freedom, her jewelry, and now her dignity, she hit a new low that she could never imagine. Struggling to keep her children from starvation, she began working at a construction site, though earning very little.
Nilam says with tears, "When I got back from work, [my husband] asked me for money to appease his thirst for alcohol. If I didn't give it or used it to get food for the children, I was beaten."
While she couldn't always provide food, she hoped to give her children a better life, one that she had once dreamed of for herself, and put them in school.
"Even when I enroled my children in school, he went and fought with the teachers and pulled them out of school," Nilam says of her husband.
Fleeing from abuse leads to life on the streets
The abuse intensified as her children watched helplessly. If the children tried to help, they were beaten, too.
"Domestic violence against women is a common problem found across India, and it is more abusive when the husband is an alcoholic," says Sarlin, a programme development coordinator for World Vision India.
The abuse escalated in 2007 when a quarrel over spending money to buy milk for the children ended in Nilam being rushed to the hospital, unconscious. When she was released, she went home. But she didn't stay for long.
Soon after, Nilam no longer feared for just her life, but now for her children's as well. Fleeing her home, she and the children were now in the streets.
Nilam managed to get a job as a maid, and the meager income she earned she invested in her children's education and in a temporary shack to call home. But her body was weak from years of abuse, and frequent fainting spells at work eventually cost her job.
New profession provides means to survive and thrive
But things changed when Nilam crossed paths with a World Vision staff member. She was encouraged to join World Vision's beautician training programme. Nilam picked up the skills easily and her confidence grew. Word spread of her abilities and people lined up to pay for her service. She now has a sustainable source of income to support her children.
"I am proud that my mother is a beautician," says Kajal, Nilam's 12-year-old girl. "I love my mother because she can face any challenge and problem. My mom is not afraid of anything. She has always taken care of us despite her condition."
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