married at thirteen.

The first thing I notice is that the English words on her shirt don’t make sense. “Color Goob” it says, like an unwitting jab at the reader of which the wearer is oblivious. Laying over her shirt is a large, stong braid of black wavy hair, falling down from the whisps around her face. The whisps catch in the wind and graze her face until she tucks them behind her simple, gold-studded ears. Her hands extend into bony fingers that twist and untwist the ties on her polkadotted skirt. Twist, untwist. She also has polkadots painted on her toenails.

She is quick to smile and lighten the mood. When her mother-in-law calls over a few choppy syllables, she all but jumps up, running playfully over mounds of dirt. She returns with her five year old daughter wrapped around her middle, clinging to her and burying her head in her mother’s strong wavy braid. Behind us, a two year old girl squats, lowers her underwear and pees in front of the house.

When she sits to talk with us, she tells us of a childhood differed. A father that abandoned, a mother who went abroad to work, an aunt and uncle charged with taking care of her who were irresponsible with the wages sent to be used for her care. A scandalous (abeit innocent) relationship with a 20 year old boy when she was 12. Twelve. I’ll say it again. Twelve.

After a complete falling out with her aunt and uncle, at the age of thirteen she was given the untimatum of marriage to her then-boyfriend or homelessness. Because the legal marriage age is 18 in Sri Lanka, her boyfriend and his family took them to the courthouse of a village several miles away so that she could falsify her age. The registrar in the village seemed satisfied with the parental affirmation and asked no further questions.

At thirteen she got in a car and rode to a distant village with her in-laws-to-be, lied about her age, and became the wife of a man eight years her senior.

At thirteen I snuck into Titanic at the movie theater.

There was a scuffle when the married couple, who had stayed away from their home village to let the news settle, returned home. The aunt and uncle involved the police. This girl is not legally old enough to be married they said. The police chief then paraded her down to the school and brought her in front of her principal to verify her age. It is clear on her face as she describes it that this was the most horrifying moment of her life.

Only made harder by the fact that she was pregnant.

She stopped attending school, as one does when they are a wife and are with child. She says that she had dreams, but that without this marriage, she would have been without anything – a house, a family, a livelyhood. To dream you have to be first and foremost, alive.


At thirteen, she got pregnant.

At thirteen, I passed notes in pre-algebra.

The beginning of their marriage was especially difficult. “The biggest surprise was raising kids when I was a kid myself.” She says, as boney fingers twist and untwist her skirt tie. I think back to the tears I shed as a brand new mother, rocking in our suede glider, holding this mystery child, this foreign frustrating enigma that I was simply baffled by. I picture shedding those tears sitting on a dirt floor at 13 years old.

But today that baby daughter is seven years old and has a younger sister who is five. And her husband is still her husband and a hard worker. He does odd masonry jobs when there is work.

She beams with a smile that reveals a flawless row of white teeth from behind her full, toffee brown lips. It’s the biggest smile she has had the whole time, and she nods ‘yes!’. We had asked her if she loves him.

“He has a good heart,” she says “especially toward other people.”

I get the sense that she is very lucky to have ‘gotten a good one’ as we say in the states (with much, much different implications). Together, they work to raise their daughters. The husband and wife have gone without meals so that the girls have enough to eat. In the past they have had a tough time buying food after they use some of their wages to buy school books for their eldest.

At twenty, she and her husband of seven years went to bed hungry in order to buy school books for their daughter.

At twenty, I used to take my laptop down to the Starbucks near campus to get a frappiccino and write up some assignments.

{copyright World Vision, photographer Lindsey Minerva}

She says that they make sure to get their daughters to school every single day. Her only dream is that their children would continue their education like she didn’t get a chance to. Both of her daughers are now sponsored through the World Vision Child Sponsorship program in their village which is new – only 6 months old. That means that a World Vision worker has been out to visit their home, has discussed the needs of the children with the parents, has made a goal for their girls and subsequently a plan of reaching that goal.

It means that they have access to one on one counseling available that is local community based and culturally sensitive. It means that there will be development programs in their village such as the Home Garden Initiative that will teach them how to collect rain water, tend a garden, and grow food for themselves. It means that the local community based organizations will work with World Vision, much like this family did, to create a target and a plan to hit it, and World Vision will allocate funds and resources to do so. It means her daughters will not be forced to become child brides.

:: :: :: :: :: ::

Every child has a story. You can be part of that story by blessing a family with the gift of child sponsorship through World Vision.


17 Responses to “married at thirteen.”

  1. Amanda

    Oh, my heart. Oh. I just can’t imagine. Like you said, it was hard enough being a new mom at 21, still feeling like a child myself. I can’t imagine choosing between food and books. I can’t imagine having to strive so hard for a future. I have it too easy, I’ve become too lazy and complacent. Oh, Lord, wake me up…

    Allison, thank you for going, for writing, for being a witness. You are so beautiful, my friend. Praying God continues to open your eyes and give you the words. ::hugs::

  2. Kelly @ Love Well

    Love this, Allison. I have similar thoughts about my children and my own husband all the time. At four, he was wandering the streets, fighting off human predators and stealing food to eat. At five, our children eat three solid meals a day plus snacks, watch TV for fun and don’t even know the concept of a human predator.

    This is the power of intervention. It can happen. So proud of World Vision for being there and walking alongside this beautiful and courageous young family.

  3. Jess

    Beautiful post :) it’s hard to believe these things are still going on in this world. I am so grateful for my family and continue to pray for those less fortunate.

  4. the Blah Blah Blahger


    And so so so beautifully written. Thank you for being there and bringing these stories to us.

    Thank you for the reminder that my paltry few dollars go to life-saving situations like this!


  5. ohAmanda

    Oh, my. 13! Thirteen!

    Thank you for sharing her story. So glad her baby girls will grow up in a community surrounded by the good (hard-working) people of World Vision!


    • AllisonO

      I’m glad they will too. And yes, both good and hard-working are the perfect descriptors.

  6. Robin Dance

    Stories like this are unfathomable, and it’s horrific to know there are countless others like it; except so many of those don’t include a loving husband…more likely abandonment.

    You’ve honored them well in this telling; a beautiful story with seeds of redemption.

    • AllisonO

      Yes. Countless others. This was just the one who was confortable enough to offer her story to us. Countless others hide in shame. My heart is wrecked.


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