Giving Girls a Chance to Beat Child Marriage in Bangladesh

Arjina (left) is a keen advocate against child marriage
and guides girls from entering into marriage too early.

More Like a Norm

“I have never believed in getting married at early age. When I was 12, I was told by my parents to marry off but I [refused]”, 19 year old Arjina said. Arjina comes from one of the poorest villages in Nilphamari district of Bangladesh. She has been witnessing many young girls around her age, including her older sister, getting married and having their own children. However, that was not the future she envisioned for herself.

In most rural areas of Bangladesh like Nilphamari district, girls being married at the age of 15 is more like a norm. Thus, Arjina’s strong opposition to change her parents’ desire is not an easy approach.

“First, I did not know what to do to change the family decision. A desperate Arjina then sought help from her friend Julikha, 14, who is a member of the local children organization, called Sunflower. Sunflower is one of ten children organizations, supported by Plan. The group members mostly are children aged 10-18 years who are regularly received multiple trainings from Plan staff on child rights and child protection in order for them to express themselves positively.

“On the one hand, Sunflower group members and I had a talk with Arjina’s parents. We told them that marriage at such a young age could cause health risk and it was also illegal. On the other hand, we went to talk to the village development committee and opinion leaders to help convincing Arjina’s parents. Eventually, Arjina’s father agreed to postpone the marriage,” Julikha said.

Campaigning Against Child Marriage

Five years later, Arjina’s life has changed. She is now an honors student of the Government University College. She is a leading campaigner who fights against early child marriage in her community.

“Arjina is an active member of the village development committee, Union Council Women and Children Related Standing Committee, and Community Clinic Management Committee of her locality. She always shares the impacts of child marriage and the importance of girls’ education in the private talks as well as villager gatherings,” informed Mahubur Rahman, President, Koimari village development committee.

In a society where young women’s role is limited to tackle household chores, Arjina certainly speaks out. “Plan staff continuously motivate me, support my endeavors and train me on counseling and negotiation,” Arjina described.

Positive Changes

In addition to the local children organizations, Plan and its partners help raising public awareness on child marriage through such activities as rallies, cultural shows and theatre for development performances in the community.

Amina, Arjina’s mother, now realizes the dreadful mistake she made by getting her first daughter Jahanara married at the age of 15. “Jahanara’s first baby died due to pregnancy complications. Her second child is malnourished. I look back at Arjina, see her going to the university and counsel other parents the fallout of child marriage. Now I understand,” said Amina.

Now, Nilphamari district is free from child marriage.

“After I complete my studies, I want to be a teacher and keep working for my community,” Arjina said.