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Married at 11, a mom by 14: Growing up and raising a family at the same time

Jan. 21, 2013: Krishna, 14, poses with her four-month-old baby Alok and husband Kishan Gopal, 16, inside the living room of their house in a village near Baran, Rajasthan.
Jan. 21, 2013: Krishna, 14, poses with her four-month-old baby Alok and husband Kishan Gopal, 16, inside the living room of their house in a village near Baran, Rajasthan.Danish Siddiqui / Reuters
Jan. 21, 2013: Gopal Kishan plays with baby Alok.
Jan. 21, 2013: Gopal Kishan plays with baby Alok.Danish Siddiqui / Reuters
May 16, 2010: Then-13-year-old Kishan Gopal, right, returns home with his 11-year-old newlywed wife Krishna, left, in a village near Kota, Rajasthan.
May 16, 2010: Then-13-year-old Kishan Gopal, right, returns home with his 11-year-old newlywed wife Krishna, left, in a village near Kota, Rajasthan.Danish Siddiqui / Reuters, file

Reuters photographer Danish Siddiqui first met Krishna and Kishan Gopal on their wedding day, May 16, 2010. The groom was 13 years old, his bride just 11.

The legal age for marriage in India is 18 but weddings like theirs are common, especially in poor, rural areas where girls in particular are married off young.

Siddiqui has been visiting the young couple at their home in the desert state of Rajasthan every year since they were married, documenting the changes in their relationship and their surroundings. In a post on Reuters' Photographers Blog, he takes up the story:

When I went to their house last week I was greeted by the loud wailing of a baby. It was their four-month-old son Alok, which means enlightenment in Hindi. Last year when I visited them, I learned that Krishna, the child bride, was seven months pregnant. I wasn't surprised at all but out of curiosity I asked Gopal, her husband, why he was in such a hurry to expand the family. He shrugged his shoulders and said, "Nothing else to do, no work, life is so boring." I was a bit taken aback.

Those like me who live in big cities plan meticulously before taking the plunge into parenthood. And here this teenager was telling me that he wanted to have a child and risk his young wife’s life because of boredom. That, again, is a different India.

When I visited, I was happy that the parents, their family and even the neighbors were enjoying the presence of the little boy. Gopal told me that his wife was nearly on her deathbed after the delivery last year and her being alive now is nothing less than a miracle.

When I asked the 14-year-old mother if she’s happy she had a baby boy, Krishna nodded her head and said, "I wanted a girl but its okay now." I was surprised by her response, as most people in both Indian cities and villages prefer boys over girls who they see as assets as opposed to girls who they consider liabilities or dependents.

During my visit, I noticed that 17-year-old Gopal had changed in the last couple of years. He started consuming alcohol a lot.

He hasn't got any work, as even the soybean fields which his family owns are not that fertile now. The water level in their fields has gone down, resulting in irrigation problems. This time when I was in the village, Krishna broke down after her husband came home drunk and was trying to carry the baby. She was scared Gopal might drop his son.

Jan. 21, 2013: Krishna breaks down after her husband came home drunk.
Jan. 21, 2013: Krishna breaks down after her husband came home drunk.Danish Siddiqui / Reuters

I stayed with the couple for a day and then took them out of the village to shoot some portraits. It was the first time in four months that Krishna was stepping out.

I took the opportunity to ask Gopal about his future plans. He told me that for his family's survival he needs to move out of the village and try to find some work in the city. When I asked him if he plans to have another baby he told me his first experience was scary enough for him and his wife.

As I left the small village, the only thing which bothered me was the future of four-month old Alok. Would he go down the same route his parents took or would he bend societal norms to carve a separate path for himself and his future partner?

July 17, 2012: Krishna, then aged 13, stands with Kishan Gopal, then 15, inside a newly constructed room at her house.
July 17, 2012: Krishna, then aged 13, stands with Kishan Gopal, then 15, inside a newly constructed room at her house.Danish Siddiqui / Reuters

For more visit the Reuters' Photographers Blog.

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