TOGETHER AGAINST CHILD MARRIAGE
A group of young feminists from Bangladesh contributes to stopping child marriages through dialogue and information.
In Bangladesh around 52 % of all girls are married before the age of 18, even though there is a law against child marriages. Child marriages often lead to early pregnancies and have a series of harmful effects on the married girls’ health and development, including increased risk of sexual assault, HIV contraction and poorer access to education and jobs.
Since 2016 ActionAid’s Global Platform in Bangladesh has offered ‘Young Feminist Leadership’ trainings addressing, among other things, the issues of child marriage. The aim of the training is to make the participants (both young women and men) believe in themselves as drivers of change capable of organising and confronting structural exclusion of women at local, national and global levels.
In 2016 a group of young people from Potuakhali, one of the most remote parts of Bangladesh, attended a Global Platform training in the capital Dhaka. As part of the training they had to draw up an action plan for the activities they would subsequently introduce in their local area. The participants decided to form a youth group striving to introduce gender equality and prevent child marriages.
When Sarmin, a 16-year-old participant, returned to her village she started offering trainings to other young people in the area on equality and the risks involved in child marriages. Though the young people were happy with her trainings, the elderly people in the village had a violent reaction to her new self-confidence and determination to confront the local norms. Ironically, the result was that people in the village forced Sarmin’s father to marry her off to set her straight once and for all.
- Sarmin’s father soon found a husband for her, and to make sure she was under control he confiscated her mobile phone and grounded her in their house. Because of her young age Sarmin knew that the marriage was illegal, so when she after a couple of days managed to borrow a phone she seized the opportunity and called the other members of the youth group and a trusted school teacher who immediately came to her house. With the help of the local headmaster they managed to pressurise the family and people in the village enough to stop the plans for Sarmin’s marriage.
- Sarmin is now a college student able to pursue her dream of becoming a lawyer. She continues to give trainings to local young people on equality and the prevention of child marriages – now based on her own story.
- Since Sarmin put an end to her own child marriage, she and the other members of the youth group have managed to stop another three child marriages in the area.