About half of all women in India are married before the age of 18. But now, students at an all-girls school in India's rural state of Uttar Pradesh are bucking the trend. Sixteen-year-old Krishna Chaudhry is leading the charge by inspiring her classmates to seek independence through education. VOA has more in this week's Making a Difference report.
A new day begins for sixteen-year-old Krishna Chaudhry. The village girl lives in Anupshahr, Uttar Pradesh - one of India's poorest states. Half of the women here are illiterate and the majority is forced into marriage at age 13.
Krishna's grandparents brought her here after family members threatened to kill her for land when her parents died.
Since then, Krishna says she is determined to rewrite her domestic destiny.
The precocious teenager races through her chores. An hour later, she is almost unrecognizable.
Krishna is one of 1,000 girls who attend the Pardada Pardadi Educational Society. Designed by a former top Dupont executive, the program aims to financially empower village girls.
Half the day is spent in the classroom, the other busy at work. Students earns 30 cents a day for making textiles which the school exports globally.
This encourages fathers to send their girls to school instead of having them work all day on the family farm. Krishna says these skills give her a shot at financial independence.
"I will not let my education go to waste," Krishna says, "I will stand on my own two feet and not get married until I get a job for myself."
Krishna's classmates are following her lead. All of them have refused to marry what they call "uneducated village boys."
This has angered many local parents who are having trouble finding local girls to marry their sons. Some have even staged protests in front of the school founder Sam Singh's home.
But, these girls have a mind of their own, says Singh. He adds that empowering girls like Krishna is the only way you can effectively change rural India. "Only transformation is going to come is through the ladies, through the mother. They are the ones in any society who transforms it," he said.
"I ask them to go to school and make their own destiny," Krishna says. "I try explaining to them that if they don't go to school the society will suppress them. I tell them to stand for their own rights and make your own career and not to leave everything in the hands of the fate," she adds.
As for Krishna's personal inspiration - "that one is easy," she says, she looks toward women world leaders like US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.