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Bangladeshi girls say no to child marriage – in their own words

Earlier this week, Girls Not Brides Bangladesh organised a peaceful rally in Dhaka to protest the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2016 – a bill that, if adopted, would allow child marriage in undefined “special cases”. Four girls from Bangladesh share why ending child marriage matters to them – and why it should matter to us all.

“I don’t want to be a child bride” – Rupa

Rupa's story - 700x1280“When I was 14 and in class 8, my parents arranged a marriage for me for financial reasons. Hearing the news, I strongly protested. I tried to get neighbours and relatives’ to challenge my parents, but failed.”

“A few days later the bridegroom’s family came to my house and a member from DALIT* also came. [They] told both our families about the negative effects of early marriage and informed us about the government’s [current] rules on child/forced marriage.”

“My parents and the bridegroom agreed to cancel the wedding. I’m happy to be able to continue my studies. I don’t want to be a child bride.”

* DALIT is a non-profit organisation working for the rights and development of the Dalit community and other vulnerable groups in Bangladesh.

Standing up for my sister – Samira

Samira's story - 700px

“I am victim of early marriage. When I was 14, I was forced into a marriage as I was considered a burden on the family. My family suggested this marriage [because] the groom didn’t ask for dowry. My husband was 35 – double my age.”

“During the marriage I had the horrible experience of marital rape. [Unable] to tolerate it anymore, I went back to my parents’ home and am living with them again.”

“Due to my experience, I decided to be a change-maker. I am determined to continue my education, practice safe sex and not get pregnant before 20. I am also determined to protect my younger sister from early marriage.”

“I don’t want this to happen to any other girl” – Jesmin

Jesmia's story - 700x1280

“I was forced into marriage at 14. After getting married I had to stop studying and face all the challenges that life brings. I experienced excruciating violence during my marriage because I was so young. After a year I got a divorce from my husband and returned to my family.”

“I suffered by being married as a child and I don’t want this to happen to any other girl of my age. When I was younger I had no idea how to stop my marriage but now I’ve learnt how to help other girls to stop theirs.”

“I want every child to go to school and no girl [to] be forced into marriage.”

My own decision is the right decision – Selina

Selina's story - 700x1280

“When I was in class 8, my father made [me stop] going to school so I could help at home instead. We are very poor and my parents said they had chosen a boy from the village for me to marry.”

“When I heard their decision I became really anxious. Then I thought, I’ll make my own decision. I did not know where I would go but I knew I wanted to continue my education. So I ran away from my family and went to a local town where I asked for shelter at a hostel.”

“I am now continuing with my studies. Although it will be challenging, I hope [that] in the future I will become well-educated and take [responsibility] for our community.”

Rupa, Seline, Jesmin and Samira are just four of the 52% of girls married before the age of 18 in Bangladesh. The country’s Parliament is currently debating whether to adopt new legislation that could allow child marriage in “special cases”, such as pregnancy. Girls Not Brides Bangladesh strongly advises that this provision be dropped. Child marriage cannot protect girls when it deprives of their rights to health, education and the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

These stories are part of “Girls’ Voices: Speaking Out Against Child Marriage”, a joint exhibit between Girls Not Brides and the Canadian government. The following organisations contributed these stories: DALIT, KOTHOWAIN, Save the Children Bangladesh, and Terre des Hommes.

These stories have been edited and shortened.