‘This is not what we want for our daughters’
This was the feedback we received in our recent research, talking to a focus group of mothers we work with in Bangladesh about child marriage. They said ‘Single girls as young as 11 have to endure sexual advances, harassment, rape and kidnap. They are safe from this if they are married. In our country girls cannot earn, only boys can earn so girls have to marry. Girls just have to produce children’.
Western Bangladesh has the worst rate of child marriage, but in the eastern Chittagong region where we work, the child marriage rate is still 58 percent, with our local partner MUKTI reporting that the rate in Cox’s Bazar where the Community Schools are located, is 67 percent.
Together with MUKTI, Children on the Edge Community Schools work to address this situation. By providing free and flexible education to girls who would otherwise have no opportunity, the schools provide the opportunity to progress to mainstream primary school, and through to higher education, instead of being married off.
The staff on the programme also work on children’s rights, focus on enrolling girls and on encouraging parents on the importance of education versus the ills of child marriage. This has had a great effect on the mothers who now describe how ‘We know everything. We know what this means. We know that girls are too young for pregnancy and childbirth and it hurts them, we know they are not ready for family, we would want a different life for them’.
The group of mothers we are talking too were all married young, One lady is unmarried, the rest of us were married at 13,17,14,13 and 16 years of age. They say ‘this is also why we know it is not right’.
Much progress has been made in Cox’s Bazar, but there is a huge amount to be done to build on these steps. We are currently fundraising in order to support more initiatives to ease the transition to primary school for children in slum communities. Despite being academically prepared when they leave the community schools, parents still struggle to pay for uniforms and transport. We are also working through a Child Committee to make girls aware of their rights, and give them the confidence that they are entitled to an education and a voice.
This article is written as part of the marking of the 2015 International Women's Day. This year's theme, “Empowering Women - Empowering Humanity: Picture It!" envisions a world where each woman and girl can exercise her choices, such as participating in politics, getting an education, having an income, and living in societies free from violence and discrimination.
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