Eight young women whose mothers are sex workers were married in a so-called “village of prostitutes” in India on Sunday under a plan to save them from being pushed into the world’s oldest profession.
The event, held in the village of Vadia in the western state of Gujarat, was organized by Vicharta Samuday Samarthan Manch (VSSM), a non-profit group which works with marginalized nomadic communities.
The brides, all aged 18 or slightly older, were dressed in colorful saris with their grooms wearing fantail turbans as loud drummers accompanied the wedding party.
Women from Vadia village have worked in the sex trade for generations and the marriage ceremony was an attempt to break the cycle of exploitation, said Mittal Patel of VSSM.
“Marriage means that the young girls will be saved from the traditional profession of prostitution,” she said. “Once the girl gets married or engaged, she cannot be forced into the flesh trade.”
Another 12 girls aged under 18 were also engaged at the event, which was held 210 kilometers (130 miles) from Gujarat’s main city of Ahmedabad.
However three more engagements were canceled when the boys failed to turn up.
Patel said her group had been working closely with local communities for five years and had found young men willing to marry the women “by building trust among them.”
Mittal said no one had previously wanted to marry a girl from Vadia, which is known locally as the “village of prostitutes.” Men in the village are known to make money by pimping the women to clients.
About 3,000 people attended Sunday’s celebrations in Vadia after invitations, which included an emotional poem by a Gujarati writer, were sent out for the big day.
“I am not the fruit of your love; I came to this world owing to your profession, I don’t blame you for this,” read one line of the poem according to the Times of India.
One of the wedding rituals was performed by J.B. Vora, a top district official who also gave away gifts to the couples.
“This is a historic event which is going to bring in a big social change in the lives of the women of Vadia village,” he said before an elaborate feast began for guests.
Arranged marriages are common in India, and mass wedding ceremonies are often held in poor, rural areas with groups of young couples taking their vows with others to cut down on costs.