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Twelve-year-old Aarti Kumari combs her hair at the Kasturba Gandhi Girls School.
By Nina Golgowski. At the age of 14, many wouldn't picture their life as a new mother, let alone the wife to another young teen facing alcohol addiction. In the northwestern Indian state of Rajasthan, in a country where 40 percent of the world's child marriages are said to be according to UNICEF, that's the reality for at least one girl named Krishna.
In the bare dirt courtyard of a low-slung building in a small farming village, a group of girls chase one another in a round of kabaddi, a local schoolyard game a bit like Red Rover. It could be any small village school in a desperately poor rural area of India — except that these girls have barely escaped a 21st century system of slavery. More children are sold into prostitution in India than in any other country. In villages such as Simraha, it is not uncommon for girls as young as 12 or 13 to be sold. The school keeps them safe and away from the home-based brothels that they were growing up in. At this school, many of the children playing games, doing homework, helping with dinner and making crafts are the daughters of prostitutes. They are members of a marginalized caste known as the Nat community, which is trapped in a system of hereditary prostitution. Founded by the nonprofit organization Apne Aap , its supporters and the Bihar state government, the school aims to break the bonds of caste and inequality. Gupta's group works to get the girls out of the reach of men who might sell them — by enrolling them in the boarding school but allowing weekend visits with their mothers and siblings. For most of the girls at the school, it's the first time any member of their family has been offered access to education.