'With the current situation, we might be risking a lost generation of children who may never return to school. The impact on girls is disproportionately worse.'- UNICEF finds that 129 million girls are out of school worldwide, with only 49 per cent of countries achieving gender parity in primary education.As per the Unified District Information System for Education Plus (UDISE+) 2020-21, the annual dropout rate for secondary level education in India stands at 14.6 per cent. A U-Report poll of the United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) conducted in India on International Womens Day 2022 revealed that the increase in the dropout rate of girls from schools across the country is alarming. It was reported that at least 38 per cent of respondents knew of a girl who had dropped out of school. While 33 per cent respondents said that the girls who had dropped out of school were engaged in domestic work. 25 per cent of respondent also reported that the girls who had dropped out had got married. In 2021, UNICEF India provided technical support to the government and its partners to help 15.5 million children out of which 50.5 per cent are girls to continue learning from home.The report by UNICEF India suggests that early marriages and chores at home are key reasons why girls drop out of school. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), every fourth woman surveyed in the age group of 20 to 24 was married before they turned 18.Although multiple state governments have rolled out scholarship funds, schemes and more to combat the increase in dropout rates of the girl child, the ground reality is a far cry from ideals. Her Circle spoke to women who were forced out of school about the importance of education and how being denied of it affected their present and future.Mamta Kumari, 32, Construction Worker'I would watch boys go to school, but it was never an option for girls in my family. After my father passed away, my brothers got me married and sent me to Mumbai. When my daughter was two years old, my husband decided to leave. I was uneducated, didnt know how to read or write, had no skills, nowhere to stay and two stomachs to feed. I considered going back, but knew that if I do my daughter would suffer as I had. Fortunately my neighbour got me a job at his construction site. I would leave my child with his wife and work 16-20 hours a day just so that I can pay rent and feed her. Today, I have learnt skills on the job, my hours are better, my daughter goes to school, and this gives me immense happiness. I may not be educated but I do know how important it is. Education is an asset and security for your daughters life, dont snatch this right from her.'Poulami Bhattacharya, 68, Entrepreneur'My parents loved me a lot and pampered me. Unfortunately, when it came to education, my brothers got the first preference as they couldnt afford to educate three children. I wasnt home-schooled either. At 16 I was married, and at 17 I had my first child a girl. I always made it clear that I would have a second child only if we can afford to educate and treat both the kids equally irrespective of gender. Both my daughter and son have successful careers. My daughter was the one who encouraged me to turn my passion for sarees into a business. Its been 20 years, now I have clients across the country and this is all because my girl encouraged me and helped me grow and learn. As a mother you realise that no one understands you better than a daughter, she taught me that you are never too old to learn, she even signed me up for a Facebook seminar for entrepreneurs. Education or turning your skill into something meaningful is the best thing for a woman. Of course there is family, but to have something thats completely yours is a whole different feeling.'Rashmi Mahtre, 46, BMC Worker'Educating the girl child has the ability of bringing exceptional changes in the financial condition and mentality of the society. Very early on in life I realised that the helpless condition cant be changed for the men in the family if the women are uneducated and depend on them. If she is educated, she will be capable enough to read and learn about her own rights, and the identity of the girl wont be lost. After my husband met with an accident and could no longer work in construction, I had to take care of the entire family. My husbands colleague told me about a BMC career drive. Since I wasnt educated enough the only job I could get was of a rag picker. I know its looked down on, but I live my life with my head held high. Educated women are looked upon with dignity and honour. They become a source of inspiration for millions of young girls who make them their role models.'Parvati Borgohain, 52, Homemaker'Young girls need to be educated, even if they dont want a career. I studied till my 6th standard. I remember one summer my mother told me I dont need to study further because I have already been promised to someone. I didnt know better, my mother didnt know better, I turned 15 and I got married to a man who was 10 years older than I was. He brought me to Mumbai, he took care of me and then at 17 I had my first child. I didnt have enough knowledge to run a household, manage finances or the confidence to make new friends in the city. I was even embarrassed to pick my children up from school. What people dont understand is how important it is for the women of the family to know the basics counting, reading, writing, banking it only gives women the courage, confidence and elevates the quality of life for all the members in the family. Dependency decreases and every generation progresses.'