Sixteen-year-old Sazeda was 10 when she first joined a children's group set up by Plan International.
"We talked to children and adults about the protection of children in our village,” she said. When she was 11, she became a youth group member. "With this group, we asked about the problems that young people face, such as poor access to health care and child marriages to be addressed." Sazeda has personal experience of child marriage. Her older sister was married at a young age. She saw the impact it had on her and made a promise to herself that she would never get married while she was still a child.
So, when her family wanted her to marry an unknown boy at the age of 14, she knew she had to stand her ground.
"When I heard about my marriage, I felt very sad. I am committed to opposing this and, in my opinion, my own parents tried to marry me off," she said. “I felt very uncomfortable about that.”
Eventually she managed to convince her her parents that her studies were more important. The marriage was called off and Sazeda was allowed to continue going to school.
Child marriage is a complex issue in Bangladesh, where economic motives are coupled with social pressure, personal honor, and tradition. Sazeda is now a member of several youth groups, which together form a platform for all children and young people.
"We organize workshops to draw attention to youth problems,” she said. “Everyone talks to each other and we also discuss issues with village leaders and government organizations. We hold meetings to promote our own viewpoint."
In addition, youth groups are fighting hard to stop cases of child exploitation. Working together is essential, and cooperation appears to be paying off. The young people have already put an end to 107 child marriages, returned 87 students back to school, reported 72 cases of sexual abuse, and helped 14 drug addicts beat their addiction.
As a youth leader, Sazeda represents many young people at various local, provincial, and even national meetings. She convinces everyone to support children and not to silence them.
“People look at me differently now and it is seen as something positive that I try to stop child marriages,” she said. “They see that I get attention from the media; this changes their perception to a more positive attitude.”
Sazeda was recently selected to be the national youth adviser for Plan International Bangladesh, as well as our Global Youth Ambassador. Plan is committed to supporting young people like Sazeda through children’s and youth groups. We provide training in the fields of child protection, disasters, exploitation of children, domestic violence, sex education, first aid, and managerial skills.
"My goal is to create a better environment for all children,” she said. “More attention needs to be paid to the protection of children. They also need to have a voice and think about important topics. All children deserve a chance to change something."