One in two girls in Bangladesh gets married before the age of 18 – one of the highest rates in the world. It is a complex situation where poverty, insecurity and patriarchal norms around girls’ sexuality and role in society all come into play.
Part of the solution requires working with communities to address child marriage and violence against women and girls. This is exactly what the Manusher Jonno Foundation is doing in 2,608 villages across Bangladesh. With the support of DFID, they run “Banchte Shekha” (meaning “learn how to survive”), a programme that seeks to promote gender equality and girls’ empowerment.
Their solution to child marriage? Sports, youth leadership and women’s support groups. We take a look at the inspiring individuals who are changing their communities in the Narail district of Bangladesh.
Banchte Sheka supports girls like 15-year-old Mitaly. Mitaly understands only too well the dangers of child marriage after watching one of her closest friends marry and have a baby. With the support of Banchte Shekha, Mitaly became the leader of a local adolescent group where young people talk to friends and neighbours about how girls’ rights are violated by child marriage.
“We feel proud when we stop a child marriage. Marriage is a pleasure and a cheerful thing, but before 18, it is not joyful. Girls face sadness for a whole lifetime and face violence in their family.”
These are Mitaly’s fellow youth group members. The group focuses on the use of dowries in Bangladesh. Dowry is money or goods that a bride’s family gives to the groom’s family before marriage. Dowry often increases the older a girl gets – meaning poor families are pressured to marry their daughters young. It is a major driver of child marriage in Bangladesh.
Through their work, this youth group thinks they have managed to persuade 15 families not to marry their daughters so far.
Jyotirmoy has been part of the Banchte Shekha youth group for three years. He knows that it is often fathers who make decisions about their daughter’s education and that men need to understand why they shouldn’t marry young girls.
“I work on breaking down social norms in the villages. I want to work with boys, to make them understand girls’ rights. I want to organise more boys to develop society and work with them to end the violence facing girls in society.”
Banchte Shekha has formed the Joti Nari Football Team, bringing together girls from poor families to learn about their rights – and have fun! The team is made up of 33 girls between the ages of 10 and 16. Only by being in the team they are breaking expectations about what it means to be a girl in Bangladesh.
Fifty nine year-old Katrick Das is the team’s coach. He believes passionately in ending child marriage and violence against women in Bangladesh. As a husband and father he knows how important men are in these social issues:
“Getting men involved is essential in tackling child marriage and gender violence because men are part of these issues. So it is very important to sensitise men about these issues.”
The final ingredient in Banchte Shekha’s recipe is a women’s rights group that raises awareness about violence against women across the district. Many women in the group have overcome abuse and now campaign to help other women, getting them started with their own business and regaining their independence.
For 55 year-old Kabita Bishash this project is personal. Married at just 12 years old, Kabita tried to commit suicide after facing violence from her husband’s family. When she found out about Banchte Shekha she was able to get the help and support she needed. Today, she is the secretary of the women’s group and football team.
Despite her experiences, Kabita is optimistic about the future for girls in Bangladesh and hopes that eventually girls will not face the experiences she did. In a world without child marriage, we are all better off.
This story is based on a photo essay by the UK Department for International Development about tackling violence against women and girls in Bangladesh. Photo credit: Ricci Coughlan/DFID. Interviews: Marisol Grandon/DFID.
In the time it has taken to read this article 43 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 3 seconds