“In our society, girls and boys are getting married off before the age of 18. The parents do not seek consent from them and arrange their marriages, putting them under various pressures and threats. As a result, the children’s dreams are broken, depriving them of their basic rights. After getting married, girls move to their in-laws’ houses and face a huge challenge to manage the household work, pressure to have children as soon as possible which brings unimaginable sufferings to their lives. I cannot understand why parents do this to their lovely daughters without thinking of the consequences”.
Those are the words of Siriza, a 17-year-old girl in Nilphamari District, Bangladesh. As the sole breadwinner, her father started thinking about her marriage when she was in grade five. Her parents planned to arrange her marriage whenever they found an eligible groom.
Siriza is among thousands of girls who are at risk of early marriage. With the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on schools and the financial situation of many families, this makes them vulnerable more than ever before as parents can no longer afford to provide for their children.
In her own accord, she became involved with Terre des Hommes Netherlands’ IMAGE plus project where she learned about the negative consequences of early marriage. She enhanced her knowledge and awareness about nutrition, sexual health, menstrual hygiene management, consent of girls for arranging their marriage, and right to education.
Within a short time, she was motivated to work as a Change Maker, which allowed Siriza to change her own life as well as the lives of her friends and neighbours who were at high risk of early marriage. Siriza said, “‘I am able to make two major changes in my life. One is I prevented my marriage at an early age and pursued my right to education and participation. Not only for myself, I am contributing to stop child marriage of other girls and changing their lives in my society”.
She prepared a list of adolescent girls who were at high risk of early marriage. She followed up the case’s situation one by one by keeping close contact with the girls and parents. When an early marriage case appears, Siriza makes her way stop it as soon as possible by talking with the parents, village leaders, and concerned persons.
“I am contributing to minimize the gap of the demand of nutrition, vitamins, and other necessary materials for adolescents and reducing the prejudices and harmful practices that are very common in our community”, she added.
She taught the girls that it is important to put their opinion when making a decision. She is disseminating the government hotline numbers (109, 999) to girls who are at risk of early marriage. After receiving the mental health training from Terre des Hommes’ project staff, she is providing mental health first aid support to the girls and women. In this way, she is directly contributing to bring changes in the society and the community.
Despite not being able to go to school due to the virus, she continues her education and support to other children. Siriza said, “I have learned a lot from the IMAGE Plus project which really contributed to my life. If I did not get involved with such initiative, my life could be ruined from the consequences of early marriage. I think I have passed the Secondary School Certificate examination successfully in which IMAGE Plus has made a huge contribution. The IMAGE Plus project has given me a new thought of life”.
“As a change agent of society, I also think this initiative should be continued through people like us. Only this way many change agents will be created and many girls will be able to save themselves from becoming a victim of child marriage in the future”, she ended.