Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Child Marriages Blight Bangladesh

Nargis who was forced to marry at 12
Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, with 20% of girls becoming wives before their 15th birthday, even though 18 is the minimum age allowed by law for a girl to marry and 21 for a boy.

Many young girls are made to give up their education to marry and raise families when they reach puberty because they are seen as a financial burden with less potential to contribute to the household income than a son. Arranging for a daughter to marry an older man can seem like a good way to secure her future and a younger bride can mean lower dowry payments for her parents.

Child brides drop out of school and are rarely allowed to work.  Often they become victims of domestic violence.  They lose their childhood completely. And with their bodies too young for child bearing, pregnancy results in serous health risks for both mother and child.

“I was 12 when child marriage shattered all my dreams,” says Nargis who is now 19.  “On the day itself I was frightened: again and again I felt fear, fear, fear. Once my grandmother and sister had gone, I had to go and live with my husband. I didn’t know him. That night I felt strange, and very scared.

“I feel very bad, because instead of going to school I live at my father-in-law's house and do all the household work. When I was at home I could share my feelings and emotions. Now that I’m married I don’t have any say and I have to abide by what my husband and my father and mother-in-law decide.

“Two years after my marriage, when I was 14, I gave birth to a baby boy, but there were complications after the birth. He survived for 16 days but then he died," Nargis says.

"It is the new kind of slavery," says Mirna Ming Ming Evora, country director for the NGO Plan International, a global children’s charity, focusing among other issues on early and forced marriages. "Here girls are a burden, they don't earn income in this culture,”  she says.

“Behind our parents’ decisions to marry girls young is poverty – extreme poverty. If our parents get a good offer, sometimes it is very difficult to change their minds,” explains Oli.

Oli is an amazing 12-year old boy, who is a member of a Plan’s children’s group in northern Dhaka, raising awareness of the impact of early and forced marriages on girls and society in general. 

They perform street dramas and step in directly when they hear a marriage is planned. “We go to see the parents and try to get them to stop the marriage,” Oli says. “We have tried this on many occasions - sometimes with success and sometimes we are not able to stop the marriage.” Plan staff in Bangladesh know of four child marriages that Oli’s club has directly prevented in his small district of the Bashentak slum alone.

In this short video of Oli explaining how boys can make a difference.

There are 25 children in Oli’s organisation and Plan has 60 similar clubs across the country. Plan has reached an estimated one million people with its anti-child marriage work while Oli himself has reached about 50,000.

Oli is one of  three children affected by child marriage - Oli, Poppy and Jemi - whose experiences is featured on Angus Crawford's Crossing Continents on Radio 4 today, Thursday 26 April, at 11:00 BST and again on Monday 30 April at 20:30 BST. You can listen online, download the podcast and browse the archive.

A TV documentary on child marriage will also be featured on BBC World News GMT: Fri 27th April 13:30 and Sat 28th April 11:30 and 23:30; and on BBC News Channel BST:  Sat 28th April 05:30, 14:30, 21:30 and Sun 29th April 03:30, 10:30, 22:30.
BBC team filming with Plan's children's group in Bashantek slum, Dhaka
 Sign Plan's petition to stop child marriage here.

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