Photojournalist Ruhani Kaur traces the story of three child brides from the northern Indian state of Haryana who dream of studying and working against all odds.

Priyanka, Meenakshi and Shiwani grew up in Damdama, an urban village that is home to Gujjars, an influential agricultural community. Their village is less than half an hour from Gurgaon, an upscale suburb of India’s capital, Delhi.

The girls, around 17 years old, have been friends since childhood. They are also child brides – one got married when she was just 10.

It is illegal for girls under the age of 18 to marry in India. But the practice still continues in many parts of the country due to patriarchy and poverty.

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The child marriage tradition of an Indian tribe
India is home to the largest number of child brides in the world, accounting for a third of the global total, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund, Unicef. The charity estimates that at least 1.5 million girls under 18 get married here each year.

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Last year, the government introduced a bill in parliament to increase the minimum age of marriage to 21, but it hasn’t become a law yet.

The three friends desperately want to forge independent lives, but know there are big challenges ahead.

‘Don’t shackle me with marriage’
Priyanka was 10 when her family forced her to marry. Seven years on, she is in Class 11, and still lives in her parents’ house.

But she has been told that she will have to go to live with her husband – who is studying for exams to join the police force – as soon as he gets a job.

She is scared, and pours her worries into her diary.

“Don’t shackle me with marriage, I’m too young… I don’t want to go to my mother-in-law, leaving my doll behind,” she writes.

Priyanka says she isn’t a very good student, but likes helping out at her brother’s beauty parlour – she hopes this can help her stay at home longer.

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