x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Married at just one and three - the annulled wedding activists hope will change India's child bride culture

Laxmi Sargara, 18, unknowingly wed her husband Rakesh, 20, in Rajasthan state 17 years ago after their families decided that when they grew up they would live together and have children.

JAIPUR, INDIA // An Indian couple who "married" when were just one and three have had their wedding annulled in a ground-breaking case activists hope will challenge the culture of child marriages.

Laxmi Sargara, 18, unknowingly wed her husband Rakesh, 20, in Rajasthan state 17 years ago after their families decided that when they grew up they would live together and have children.

In the first procedure of its type, the pair had their union legally revoked in Jodhpur on Tuesday as part of a campaign against enforced child marriages.

"I was unhappy about the marriage. I told my parents who did not agree with me, then I sought help," Ms Sargara said. "Now I am mentally relaxed and my family members are also with me."

When she discovered that she was married, Sargara went for advice to Kriti Bharti, who runs the Sarathi Trust in Jodhpur, a welfare organisation that lobbies for children's rights.

Rakesh, who works driving an earthmover, at first wanted to press ahead with the relationship but was convinced by his wife's fierce opposition to agree that the marriage should be revoked, Ms Bharti said.

Child marriage is illegal in India but remains common in poor, rural communities in which it is seen as improving the financial security of both families.

On Sunday, villagers in Rajasthan injured at least 12 government officials who tried to stop a wedding of about 40 child couples.