Pain shouldn’t run that deep in a 14-year-old girl. But Aparna* knows it well. You can see it in her eyes.

Aparna lives in the red-light district area of northeast India. Last year, her mother, Binita*, gave her to be married to a 32-year-old man. What kind of mother does that? The kind who has children at home that she cannot feed and is now weathering COVID. The kind who knows personally the deep, relentless despair of slavery. You can see it in her eyes.

It’s challenging to be a female in India — one of the hardest places in the world to thrive as a woman or girl. Aparna and Binita are at high risk for poverty, abuse and slavery because in India

  • 27% of girls are married before their 18th birthday and 7% are married before the age of 15. India has the highest absolute number of child brides in the world – 15,509,000.
  • There are 8 million people who are enslaved – mostly women and children.
  • There is a shortage of girls due to gender-based violence and male child preference.
  • An estimated 135,000 children are trafficked annually, mostly into forced labor and commercial sex.

In a reality such as this, what could Aparna do? What choices did she have?

This is what Aparna bravely did:

She rejected her life as a child bride and returned home to shelter with family. Thankfully, her mother welcomed her back.

And this is where you can find Aparna today

In a Transformation Group for teenage girls.

Each week, the girls save money, focus on their education and plan for stronger futures – ones that do not yet include early marriage. Together the girls learn new skills that help them face challenges that will certainly be ahead for them. They are growing in their understanding of God and learning they are loved, valued and treasured.

In fact, Binita realized how much the teen Transformation Group was changing her oldest daughter that she made the decision to allow her second daughter to attend too.

And that pain in their eyes? It has turned into a powerful, focused vision to transform the next generation.