Their struggle against child marriage earned three young girls from West Bengal their first visit outside their village to Rashtrapati Bhavan to meet President Pratibha Patil on Thursday, an encounter which they said will be always cherish.
Former child labourers and now the stars of the Purulia district, eleven-and-a-half year old Rekha Kalindi, thirteen-year-old Sunita Mahato and Afsana Khatun successfully fought off their parents attempts to get them married with the help of friends and teachers.
Life changed for Rekha, who use to roll beedis to earn a living, in September 2007 when she joined school under the state government's National Child Labour Project (NCLP) where she learnt about the evils of early child marriage and other social customs besides her regular course.
In November last year, her parents decided to marry her off. "I felt very bad and discussed it with my classmates. Together, we decided to speak to my teacher and seek her help," Rekha told PTI after interacting with the President.
A group of teachers and students went to Rekha's house and spoke to her parents to dissuade them from marrying her off so early in life.
"I was so happy that they agreed to continue with my studies," said a beaming Rekha who is now in class III.