Children Not Wives
Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world with over 40 % of its 160 million people living in extreme poverty. The majority of these destitute people live in remote areas and often have an extremely limited income. Religion and tradition play an important role in these communities. Here, child marriage is regarded as way for the young girls to ensure a secure future for both the girls and their families. Child marriage is illegal by law in Bangladesh. This, however, does not prevent these families from marrying off their young daughters. Child marriage is an intrinsic part of these communities. Here, it is about survival – it is about providing one’s daughter with the best possible future: even if this means that a 12-year-old girl is married to a grown man.
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Shapla Khatun, 13 years old, was brought up in poverty. Her father makes a living by transporting people on a three-wheeled bike called Pan. Her father is also a devout Muslim and as a consequence of her father’s dogmatic approach to religion, Shapla was taken out of school in fifth grade so she could devote all her time to the study of the Quran. Obviously, this heralded a future with limited prospects. In addition to Shapla’s dwindling future, it was arranged that Shapla was to marry a 28-year-old man from wealthy family – Shapla was not asked for consent and she met her husband for the first time during the ceremony. Today, Shapla lives with her husband in his village – she misses her own family everyday.
Rabeya Khatun was 12 years old, and a seventh grade student, when she got married. Rabeya’s parents had accepted a proposal from a rather wealthy family. Prior to the wedding, she had been harassed by a stranger who would appear every time she went to and from school. On the actual wedding day, she met her husband for the first time. Here she discovered that her new husband, in fact, was same man who had been harassing her for more than a year. Today they live together in his house.
Sharmin Khatun was only 10 years old when she started working. Her father could not provide for her and therefore Sharmin and her mother had to work in order to make ends meet. When she was 15 she got married and this was actually a way for her to escape poverty. Her husband, who was 20 when they married, now provides for her. Obviously, Sharmin would have preferred to marry for the right reasons, but she felt inclined to accept her husband’s proposal due to her own family’s financial situation. Today, and largely due to Sharmin’s decision to marry, she has improved the living conditions not only for herself, but also for her family.
Ratna Dash got married when she was 13 years old, but soon after the wedding she was divorced due to domestic abuse. She has since then gotten married again to a new husband. However, her new life comes with a heavy price. According to the Hindu faith, to which Ratna adheres, women are not allowed to marry more than once. As a consequence, she and her new husband have been ostracised by the their community. In addition to this predicament, her new husband is still married to his former wife, something which is regarded as illegal according to the Hindu norms and traditions.
When Rehana Khatun was 12 years old, her eight-year-older cousin proposed to her. Her family was at first reluctant, but Rehana accepted the proposal – she really liked her cousin. After the wedding, they settled in a village not far from Rehana’s family. Rehana was not allowed to leave the village and that year she only saw her own family twice. Her cousin abused her physically and mentally on a daily basis and as a consequence Rehana has now returned to her own family. Today, her father fears for her safety and he is reluctant to put her back to school. Therefore, getting married again seems to be Rehana’s only option. Obviously, she loathes the idea of remarriage.
Despite her young age, Tamanna Khatun, has already been subject to three proposals: all of them coming from wealthy families, all of them very lucrative and tempting –at least that is what Tamanna’s parents think. Indeed, a date for Tamanna’s wedding was set. However, thanks to a local group of young volunteers who takes action to end child marriage, the wedding was cancelled the day before the ceremony. Tamanna says she is not ready for marriage – she would like to wait until she turns 18. Nevertheless, her parents might try to marry her off again anytime soon.
When Nargis Begum was little her father passed away. With no one to provide for her mother and her six siblings, young Nargis was forced to take a job. When Nargis was 11 years old her mother married her off to a man. He was 23 years old. She moved to her new husband’s village, but soon found herself being physically abused by him and his family. Today, Nargis is divorced. She knows that the only way to get any future financial support is to get married again. However, she is convinced that she has been cursed by her ex-husband.
When Mousumi Biswas was 15 years old, her parents got an offer from a 32-year-old doctor who wanted to marry Mousumi. After hours of conversation with her parents, Mousumi finally agreed to say yes to the proposal on the condition that she was to meet the doctor before the actual wedding. A meeting was arranged between the two, and here Mousumi pleaded with the doctor to cancel the wedding: “Surely, with his highly educated mind, the doctor should be able to see the abomination in a grown man marrying a child.” The wedding was cancelled, but the doctor has proclaimed that he intends to marry Mousumi when she is old enough. However, Mousumi has no interest in marrying the doctor despite his attractive social status.
Rupa Khatun, 13 years old, loved going to school and she was also a good student. In eight grade, however, her parents took her out of school and soon after Rupa was married to a 35-year-old man. The proposal had come from a wealthy and highly respected family - this was most likely Rupa’s only chance of getting out of poverty. Not long after the weeding, Rupa got pregnant. 9 months later, Rupa, who was still only 12 years old, gave birth to a boy. Her husband, over time, turned out to suffer from mental illness. He physically abused and sexually harassed Rupa on a daily basis. Today they are separated, but Rupas son has been taken away from her by her in laws.