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Profile

This year at Happy Kids Center we launched a child marriage prevention program called Kanya
String of Hope.
South Asia has the highest prevalence of child marriage in the world, and the tradition is pervasive within our community. Nearly 1 in 2 (45%) girls in this region of the world are married before the age of 18.
With this in mind, we brought together 10 girls from our community ages 10 to 16 who are at the highest risk of being married within the next several years. Through this program the girls are crafting string and macrame jewelry which HKC then sells on their behalf.
To ensure that the girls are earning a stable income for their work, Happy Kids Center pays the
girls directly for the jewelry they have made at the end of every month. We then sell the bracelets
for the same amount that the girls are being paid.
We believe that given their dedication to their craft and the dire situations they are coming from, our girls deserve every cent that is earned from the jewelry. However, this means that we are
dependent on donations to fund the program, purchase materials and pay our staff. It is with this in
mind that we are seeking assistance from Givologists!

Project Breakdown:
The Kanya Girls meet 3-4 days each week for 2 hours to make the jewelry. At the end of each
month the girl's creations are collected and logged. Each style of jewelry has a designated
price based on its level of difficulty. The bracelets are later sold for the same amount that
the girls earn. The money is then "paid" to the girls in the following ways:
50% of each bracelet made goes to the girls at the end of the month as a salary
25% is put into a fund that the girls can access at the end of the year if they are not
married.
This annual fund is used to teach the girls financial literacy and budgeting.
25% is put into a fund that the girls can access when they turn 18 years old if they are not married.
Happy Kids Center has committed to matching the girl's earnings from this fund each year.
If the girls continue on the same track they are on today this should add up to enough to
cover the girl's dowries upon completion of our program at 18.
By providing the girls with a source of income that has the potential to match the income of her entire family each month, we are providing financial stability to the families while offering an
alternative to the traditional timeline marriage for these girls.
In order for the girls to be enrolled in this program they must attend the local government school associated with Happy Kids Center a minimum of 3 days per week.

History

The story of Kanya: String of Hope began in late 2016 when we first witnessed a child marriage first
hand within our community, just 1 year after the center was opened.
One of the families we work most closely within our community is a family of eight girls. All eight of the girls in this family attended school with the help of a foreign benefactor, however, one by one
the girls were removed from school in their early teens to be married.
In late 2016 the girls lost their father. It was after this loss that two of our girls who attended Happy Kids Center everyday, ages 15 and 16 were taken out of school to be married.
This was our first encounter with child marriage and helplessly, we watched as these teenage girls
were married, leaving their education and childhood behind forever.
The tradition of child marriage is pervasive in South Asia, and is passed down, generation to
generation. For this reason we want to share with you the story of the mother of these 8 girls: Priya.
Priya is a strong, warm, beautiful woman who is now in her early forties. Priya was married to her
husband at just 12 years old. A few years later she began having children, and has given life to eight beautiful girls.
Priya spent her whole life trying to ensure that her girls would have more than she did. She worked
tirelessly to provide for her many daughters as they went to school, even if that sometimes meant
digging through the garbage in the evenings in search of food.
However, despite this, child marriage is a part of her culture. Unable to afford the expensive
dowries, Priya married her three eldest daughters, each before the age of 16. They were removed
from school and moved in with the groom's family, only to begin to have babies shortly thereafter.
When it was time for her next two daughters to be married we were heartbroken. At this point, Happy Kids Center was well established in the community and we wanted to act. But, despite our desire to prevent the marriage ourselves, we recognized it was not our place as outsiders to tell a
mother what is best for her daughters, or to impose our western values on a community rooted deeply in tradition. This was far and away the most difficult decision we have ever had to make at HKC.
It was through collaboration with women like Priya and the other mothers of our Happy Kids we
have come to understand the complexities of child marriage and the financial strain that it puts on families. Most of these mothers do not want to let go of their little girls so soon, but see no other option.
It was with this in mind that Kanya String of Hope was designed, not as a way to force change on the
community, but instead, to provide hope and access to a different kind of life for this generation of girls.

Impact

1. We prevent child marriage by providing at risk girls with a salary to help support their
families.
Most mothers in this community do not wish to see their daughters married young, however as a girl gets older she becomes a financial strain on her family. As she grows up and becomes too physically mature to work in the street (at the time she hits puberty) she becomes an extra mouth to feed in an already economically strained household.
2. We prevent child marriage by giving our girls the opportunity to earn the funds to pay of their own dowry through our matching program (if they are not married before 18 years old.)
A dowry is the payment that a bride's family must pay to the groom's family if they are to be
wed. In this system a girl's dowry becomes more expensive every year she is not married after she has her first period. Dowries in this community are astronomically high and not at
all reflective of the annual income earned by these families. The longer a family waits to marry their daughter the higher the dowry becomes, risking serious debt which often looks like indentured servitude.
3. We prevent child marriage by providing the girls with access to education
Girls who have no education are three times as likely to marry by 18 compared to girls with secondary or higher education. With this in mind, one of the qualifiers for becoming a part of the Kanya String of Hope program is regular attendance at a local government school with whom Happy Kids Center partners. Typically, at this age, having never attended school before, the girl's parents would see no point in sending them to school when they could be working. However, because we have linked their education to a financial incentive, the parents have agreed to allow the girls to attend school on the days that Kanya String of Hope takes place (3 days per week.)
4. We prevent child marriage by educating our girls on financial literacy and budgeting
By teaching the girls to manage the money that they earn each month we are in turn teaching them the key responsibilities involved in managing a household. Whether the girls
are married at 16 or 25, financial management is key to ensuring that they have a stable life.
5. We increase young women's sense of self by providing them with the opportunity for personal freedom, feelings of self efficacy, and a safe space away from the pressures and expectations forced on them by society.

Team Credentials

This program was personally implemented by the Executive Director of Happy Kids Center.
The Kanya String of Hope's program coordinator, Mihaki Thapa, is a local Nepali woman who is a former representative for UNICEF's Child Marriage Prevention Initiatives.

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