Posted by: helpachildtostudy | April 21, 2009

The Cost of a Third Daughter

I recently arrived back from a visit to Karnataka where we had organized an event to raise sponsorships for the students. Whenever I’m down there my colleague Mr Kanavi tries to take me to meet as many of our students as possible so that I can record their stories.

On this particular trip I met many amazing young people such as Shafiq who is the son of a tailor and studying Engineering. With his father now too old to work the burden of supporting the family has fallen on his mother, and Shafiq tries to support her by completing tailoring work within his spare time and helping her to cook. Despite all hardships he’s an incredibly cheerful young man, enthusiastically describing his love for reading and in particular Chetan Bhagat books. I also met Akkamahadevi who is the daughter of two farm labourers and now in her second year of Medicine. Small in stature and with a beaming smile, she was the best student in her college for first year M.B.B.S. Hopefully I will be able to tell their stories in more detail soon, but for now I’d like to talk about Mala’s family.

Mala’s father died when she was young, since then her mother has been the main provider, weaving baskets for a living. One of Mala’s older brothers also weaves baskets while one has graduated from a Dip.Ed. and works as a teacher. Mala has been sponsored by Help A Child since 2004 and under the program has been assisted to complete a B.A., B.Ed. and now an M.A.which she will graduate from in June. She is waiting for the exams for teacher placement so that she can begin earning for her family.

When we arrived at the house we found Mala’s older sister there also with her three daughters, the youngest not more than 2 months old. Mala’s older sister had only studied until the 4th standard and had married young as girls in villages generally do. As we exclaimed over the baby Mala’s mother told us that her older daughter had now returned to live with them – her husband had sent her back.

After giving birth to her third child with the advice of the doctor she had undergone a family planning operation at the hospital. Her husband was furious, she had given him only daughters and not the son he desired. Now that she would be unable to give him anymore children he saw no further use for her, and no point in supporting the daughters he had already fathered, so he sent her back to her mother’s home.

Now Mala’s family, already poor, has four extra mouths to feed. I asked Mala whether her family wanted her to get married now that her studies were almost complete. “My mother has left the decision in my hands.” She told me “I don’t want to get married for 2 or 3 years, I should earn and support my family first.”

With an education and the ability to find a job with a sustainable income Mala has options that her sister doesn’t. The independence that an education brings to girls can not be underestimated, ensuring that at least they are not dependent upon the whims of their husband for their wellbeing.

Hopefully in future Mala’s nieces will also be able to gain an education to ensure that they do not suffer the same fate as their mother.


Mala with her mother, elder sister and two of her sister’s children.

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