In a groundbreaking case, Laxmi Sargara, 18, has been awarded an annulment after 17 years of marriage. When she was just a 1-year-old, Sargara was given in marriage to Rakesh, who was only 3. Annulments are incredibly rare in India, and the couple is hoping that their case will help others in similar situations.
"I was unhappy about the marriage," Sargara told the American Foreign Press. "I told my parents who did not agree with me, then I sought help. Now I am mentally relaxed and my family members are also with me," she said.
Sargara's marriage made her one of the youngest child brides in India's history. The tradition of child marriage and betrothal is very prevalent in the country. One UNICEF report states that 47 percent of married Indian women were married before turning 18; at least 40 percent of all child marriages in the world occur in India.
Sargara learned of the marriage only this week, once she turned 18 and was told she would be leaving her home to go to that of her husband, Rakesh. She then worked with Rakesh in order to have the marriage annulled. He consented, and the couple made history.
"It is the first example we know of a couple wed in childhood wanting the marriage annulled, and we hope that others take inspiration from it," social worker Kriti Bharti told the AFP.
The news of the annulment is sure to anger traditionalists, who see child marriage as a rite of passage. The AFP reported that on Sunday, villagers in the Rajasthan province in India attacked and injured 12 government officials who wanted to stop the marriage of 40 child couples.
"Child marriage is linked to poverty, lack of education, and above all to the entrenched social norms that push parents to marry their daughters early," UNICEF Representative for India Karin Hulshof said in a statement. "To make sure that no child gets married before the age of 18, we need to keep girls in school and to improve the position of girls and women in society," she explained.
"I wasn't ready for marriage. No girl should be married at such an early age. I won't allow my daughter to walk the same path I did," Nargis Noor told UNICEF reporters. She was married at 16 and is now determined to help end child marriage and improve the situation of young girls in the country.