Riya, today, whose name has been changed for this story, with her two sons.

Musunuru, India

When 11-year-old Riya dropped out of grade five in the year 1993, little did she realize that her life was about to change drastically.

Her family believed in the tradition of child marriage. Her three elder siblings had already been married when they were yet children. At the tender age of 11, Riya was married to a 25-year-old man John. By the age of 13, Riya had become a mother.

As the 13-year-old did not know the responsibilities of motherhood, Riya’s mother raised the newborn in her home while Riya continued to live with her husband away from her baby. It was then that spousal abuse and the indifference of her parents-in-law hit Riya hard.

She was beaten repeatedly, every day by her drunken husband while his parents remained as mute spectators. The abuse was so intense, that Riya developed health complications. Hearing this, Riya’s parents brought her back to their home. “I cannot describe my pain”, says Riya now with tears in her eyes. The memories are painful and she cannot justify them even now. However, due to societal pressure, a compromise was made between the families and Riya was sent back to her in-laws’ home and gave birth to her second son. Now she was 15-years-old.

The spousal abuse continued unabated. When Riya’s parents intervened, John locked his sons in a room and sent Riya away to her maternal home. By now Riya had grown to understand motherhood and wept bitterly for her sons. John continued to abuse the elder of the two sons and after many days of struggle, Riya and her parents succeeded in uniting the children with Riya. The responsibility of raising the children fell on the shoulders of young Riya who worked as a laborer in fields to earn her living.

Although her parents supported her emotionally, she needed to meet the expenses of her family. Thus began the journey of a child turned woman at the age of 17. Riya did not believe then that she would succeed in life. Memories of her unfortunate life with her husband continued to haunt her. Speaking to the Sisters, Riya recalls the day she was married, “I had no idea of all that was happening around me and just followed all that the elders told me to do; my parents were relieved that both of their daughters had been settled in life.”

“Did you ever ask your parents why they took such a decision on you?” the Sisters asked.

“I never asked them for many years. Now as I educate young women on the evils of child marriage, I did ask them once. But they have only silence for an answer.”

Riya’s parents had gifted her with a small piece of property on which she availed a bank loan and built a small house to call her own. Riya had to pay the price of being a single mother as the contractor who built her house sexually abused her and the neighborhood scorned her for being separated from her husband. Riya endured it all silently for her only aim was to raise her sons to a bright future. Her elder son was enrolled in a residential school run by the government and Riya carefully raised both her sons with utmost care and love.

Today, towering above her, both the sons look at their mother with a deep appreciation for all that she endured for their sake.

During this period, Riya has been in touch with the Sisters in Musunuru. Lilly Luka, SCN, enrolled Riya as a student in the tailoring class run by the Sisters.

That was the platform Riya needed to prove herself of what she could achieve. In the campus of Nazareth Preranalaya, Riya found hope, strength, and determination to succeed in life. Sister Lilly’s insight did not miss the exceptional skill Riya had in understanding the nuances of sewing. When the tutor was set to leave the center, Sr. Lilly encouraged Riya, who had already completed her course, to be the next tutor.

“I learned to believe in myself here at Preranalaya. Sister Lilly nurtured me and I grew to be a confident and courageous person under the tutelage of Sister Ann Moyalan,” she says with joy in her eyes.

Today, Riya is a regular at all events that focus on child marriage. In the course of transmitting skills of sewing, Riya does not hesitate to talk about the evils of child marriage. She has endured much and is determined to prevent the same misfortune on some other child.

As the Sisters left Riya’s home, they felt a deep sense of satisfaction in their hearts. Easter had come alive in Riya’s life thanks to the hope of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth and Riya’s great strength.