Bangladesh: Escape from Early Marriage

Shapla. © 2012 Prodush Mankhin/World Vision

© 2012 Prodush Mankhin/World Vision

This month our country of focus is Bangladesh, where World Vision’s Strong Women, Strong World initiative focuses on child protection. Bangladesh has one of the world’s highest rates of early marriage. According to UNICEF, 66 percent of Bangladeshi girls marry before the age of 18. Approximately a third of women aged 20 to 24 were married by the age of 15. The high rate of early marriage in Bangladesh stems from traditional Bangladeshi customs and moral codes. Poverty is a major underpinning factor encouraging early marriage.

When Shapla’s parents arranged for her marriage to a boy from a neighboring village at the age of 15, Shapla took her problem to leaders in her village who were working with World Vision Bangladesh. Through World Vision’s intervention, her parents came to understand the physical and mental effects of early marriage and learned about the law against early marriage. After much discussion, the marriage was called off.

Today we share an interview with Shapla where she reveals her courageous actions and her dreams for the future:

World Vision: At 15 your parents tried to force you to get married. What was your reaction then?
I was so upset and frustrated hearing that news. I tried to make them understand that I wanted to continue to study, not to marry. But [there was] no result. In one stage I had lost strength and cried like mad finding no way to salvage [the situation]. I knew early marriage is dangerous for a girl.

World Vision: How did you stop your marriage?
I shared my situation with friends who completed a course from World Vision and went to our community leader for consultation. She went to my parents and explained the physical and mental effects of early marriage on a child and the law of the government against early marriage. My friends also took part in the discussion. After a long argument and discussion, finally my parents and relatives decided to refuse the marriage proposal. Then we called the groom’s family and [we] forfeited the marriage. Finally, both parties came to understand and stopped the early marriage. Though it seems like a story, it happened in my life.

World Vision: Do you have any idea at the age a girl or a boy should be suitable to get married?
Yes, I know. At 18 years old for a girl and, on the other side, at 21 years old for a boy. Marriage is a social phenomenon by which a new family is molded. It is obviously necessary to keep existence of the human society. But I don’t think it is more necessary for a girl to get married and leave her studies midway. Education helps one to be self-supported. So in the long run she can give support side by side to her husband to run the family’s economy smoothly. If necessary, an established girl can help during her parent’s crisis also.

World Vision: Have you seen any cases of early marriage among your relatives or friends?
Yes, one of my friends, Runa Akter, got married when she was 17. I think it was nothing but her parent’s lack of knowledge about the bad effect of early marriage.

Early marriage is very dangerous for a girl. As I have seen in most of the cases girls are becoming sick during pregnancy and delivery, even facing death because of malnutrition and pregnancy complications.

When a girl gets married early, she gives birth at an early, immature age and in an immature body. As a result, the mother can become sick, malnourished and face death. The baby can also be born sick and unhealthy.

On another hand, young mothers do not have enough experience and knowledge of maintaining a family and she faces more challenges to cope with in her new life. Life of the young mother becomes a nightmare. Then the husband-wife relationship or relationship between two families also falls into a challenge.

If the mother is not educated, the children of the family could also not get a proper education for life. So the future of the newcomers also remains in threat and danger.

World Vision: Why is early marriage still prominent in society?
It’s mainly happening because of unconsciousness and feeling of insecurity of the parents. The parents always feel insecure of keeping a young, unmarried daughter at home for a long time as crimes like eve-teasing (harassment), rape and acid throwing are a regular occurrence in the society. Other than these things, the poor economy and dowry system are some of the main reasons behind early marriage.

World Vision: What is your advice to people who are not aware of the social diseases like early marriage?
My call to the youth is to stand strongly against any injustice. Be aware about your rights. My request to our parents is to try to fulfill your children’s seven basic rights. Do not ruin their (a child’s) life by forcing them into marriage at the early age. Let children enjoy childhood’s pleasures.

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