In a cement-walled room at the end of a rutted road in the rural Indian district of Bhiwani, a teenage girl named Lado sits in a shaft of sunlight and talks confidently about her future. "I want to be a math teacher," says the 17-year-old, her printed green scarf falling on to her lap. "I tell my parents, 'Do whatever you want, but educate me. Let me go to school.'"
Welcome to the front lines of the fight to stop child marriage in a country where nearly half of all girls wed before age 18. The weapon of choice: cash.
Lado is part of an innovative program called Apni Beti Apni Dhan, or Our Daughters, Our Wealth. Launched in 1994 by the northern state of Haryana, the program gives poor families 500 rupees ($11, the equivalent of less than half a week's pay) when a daughter is born, and also deposits money into a savings account. If the girl turns 18 unwed, she is eligible to redeem the bond, worth 25,000 rupees (roughly $500, or one third of an average yearly income). The earliest of the program's approximately 150,000 enrollees turn 18 next year, offering a rare chance to study whether the program offers a solution other states—and countries—can use.
Whether it can be tied directly to Apni Beti or not, child marriage is on the decline in Haryana, which saw an 18 percent drop in the practice between 1992 and 2006. Haryana community workers say that thus far none of the program's beneficiaries have been married off by their parents, who know of the program's promised payout. The girls must sign for the bond, but it is likely their parents will have control of it because of social norms, and most of the girls say they want their parents to use it for their education anyway.