Population Connection: Three Wives, Ten Kids is Enough

Pulitzer Center

This article was originally published as a blog post on Untold Stories.

The air crackles as a team of medical staff and crew walk across a peanut field, lugging a big generator from their boat into a village of 850 people. Near a collection of thatch roof homes, the crew sets up a projector on the dirt floor of a small bamboo structure that also serves as the community's schoolhouse. Well, it occasionally serves as a schoolhouse. The teacher lives on the mainland, a three to four-hour boat ride away, and only makes the journey along the Brahmaputra River to Tengatoli village in lower Assam to teach once a month. Sometimes once every two months.

Barefoot children and mothers holding infants trickle into the school-turned-cinema hall. The boat staff, part of a boat clinic run by the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research with funding from the Indian government and UNICEF, show a video on maternal and child health, including the importance of family planning.

Some of the video clips are in Assamese, and even though many in the crowd only speak Bengali, the language barrier does not seem to dissuade them from watching. Many who live on this island without electricity or televisions have never before seen a video.

One of the women watching is Anuwara Begum. Dressed in a vibrant yellow, orange and red sari, she wears her head covered, an assortment of bangles and a nose ring. Begum, who does not know her age but thinks she is about 30, grew up in a village on the mainland. Like many of the girls in her community, she got married at 12 or 13. She left her family and friends and moved to her husband's village on the island. Begum had her first child at around age 15, she says as she slowly rocks her fourth and youngest in her arms. This baby will be her last, she says through a translator...

Read the full article at the Population Connection's The Reporter magazine (PDF).