In southern Bangladesh, the average girl is married by age 15, drops out of school, and has her first child by 16. This puts both mother and baby at far greater risk of death in a region where maternal and newborn mortality are already high. She has no voice in these decisions. Her parents, husband, and in-laws decide. What happens when you give a girl a voice?
In southern Bangladesh, the average girl is married by age 15, has her first child by 16, and drops out of school. She has no voice in these decisions. Her parents, husband, and in-laws decide. What happens when you give a girl a voice?
This is Shathi's story. Dwarika, Barisal, Bangladesh.
Shathi is helping her 14-year-old sister-in-law get ready for school. At the age of 14, Shathi was no longer going to school. Her parents gave her away in marriage. Shathi had her first child at the age of 15. When Save the Children started the Girl's Voices project nearby, Shathi joined. The all-girls group met in a neighbor's house six afternoons a week. They learned how to think critically, solve problems, negotiate, and make decisions. They also found a place to share their troubles. When the group learned that one member was threatened with early marriage, Shathi and other girls raised their voices to prevent it.
There was a very poor girl in our group whose father died. She came to the group saying my mother wants to give me away in marriage. If she does, I can't come here anymore. We asked her, why is she giving you away? She said my mother keeps saying what good is it having you here? We told her, look, you are still an adolescent. Don't make the same mistake some of us made. My parents gave me away when I was very young because we were very poor. You should not go through with it. She was convinced and went home to tell her mother. But her mother didn't listen. The girl came back to the group and told us what happened. The next day we all went and tried to convince her mother. We told her you can't give your daughter away at this age. That would be child marriage. She didn't want to listen to us. She said this is my daughter, what is it to anybody else? We told her you only have only one daughter. If anything happens to her you will feel awful. If she marries now it could happen that during childbirth she and the child could die. Or maybe one of them would die. Then you will be the one who is sorry. You will think if only I had listened to them, none of this would have happened. She was convinced, so we left. She did not give her daughter away. We learned all of this from Girls' Voices.
Shathi has also used her voice to stop early marriage at home. Now her daughter and sister-in-law will have the opportunities she lost.
JAHANARA BEGUM [Shathi's mother-in-law]
I got married at a very early age. Because of this I had a lot of children and a lot of trouble raising them. I have a daughter. I am not going to give her away in marriage at an early age. I am going to keep her in school.
MD. SHAHIN PADDA [Shathi's husband]
There is no way I am going to give my daughter away in marriage at an early age. I am trying to make a better future for her. She can get married when she completes her studies.
I want our future to be much better than this. I want my family to be happy. I am going to make sure my daughter has a good education. I am not going to have her marry at an early age. I have high hopes for my daughter.
From 2006-2010 the Kishoree Kontha [Girls' Voices] project touched the lives of more than 42,000 girls in Southern Bangladesh and changed them forever.
"I see a big change in these girls. After participating in Girls' Voices, they are more aware and more confident. They use what they have learned to improve our families and our community. In the future, I believe they will use it to improve our country as well." -- Abdul Karim Howlader, father of a participant.
Add your voice. Save the Children. savethechildren.org