Rachana Sunar was nine when she first witnessed her father abuse her mother, as punishment for only bearing daughters. Fearing for her own safety, as well as for that of her sisters and mother, Rachana vowed never to face the same fate.
At the age of 15, Rachana received a scholarship so she could continue her studies, but her father had other plans: he wanted to marry her off. Rachana did not want to leave education behind so she tricked her father into believing that he would need to pay the scholarship fees back if she left school, and was able to postpone her child marriage.
“I was afraid of living the same life like my mum was living, I didn’t want (society) to kill my dreams.”
Shortly after her child marriage was postponed, Rachana’s life took a different turn when her father left the family, leaving behind six daughters and a pregnant wife. Rachana was forced to stop school and get a job in order to support her family. Yet through the ordeal, she never lost her feeling of purpose; “I should be proud of being a girl.”
Through her determination and with support from Strømme Foundation (a Girls Not Brides member), Rachana was able to start up Sambad, a community project where marginalised girls in west Nepal discuss female empowerment, issues that affect them, and potential solutions for the future.
“We work together as a community, we have our common goal, our common voice.”
After a year of running the programme, Rachana secured funding to create a community house where she could hold talks and lessons to educate the community on child marriage. “We have to convince our community members, we need to change their mindset, and the the way they look at girls, and boys.”
Since she started, Rachana has stopped 37 child marriages and is making her voice heard around the world. Now 22, she recently took part in an exchange programme in Norway and told her story at the Oslo Freedom Forum, stressing the importance of community action and breaking the silence on the issue of child marriage.
“This is my journey; this is the beginning of our fight for justice.”
The Oslo Freedom Forum is a transformative annual conference where the world’s most engaging human rights advocates, artists, tech entrepreneurs, and world leaders meet to share their stories and brainstorm ways to expand freedom and unleash human potential across the globe.
In the time it has taken to read this article 25 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 3 seconds