Originally published in The Daily Star.
Brishty, a 12-year old girl, is in class 5. At this early age her parents decide to marry her off to a man three times older to her. We all have an idea how such stories end. In Bangladesh, child marriage is a problem.
The aforementioned story, however, had a different ending. Brishty's marriage was stopped by a youth group functioning in Mirpur Bauniabadh area. This is a part of Save the Children's Child Friendly Local Governance (CFLG) programme which aims for turning rights into realities in Bangladesh.
The members are young, dedicated individuals working for social change in their own community. From child marriage to health awareness programmes, education for poor students to vocational training courses – all are carried out by this group of young people with the help of local government body and development organisations.
This young group is conducting different activities like street dramas and training sessions to raise awareness on child marriage among other social issues. People from the local communities attend these sessions with eagerness. Through these initiatives they try to portray the adverse effects of child marriage and other social issues adjacent to this. Currently there are about 104 members working in five blocks of Bauniabadh. Due to their strong advocacy against child marriage the community has been declared a “child marriage free area” by the local ward commissioner.
“Parents need more counselling regarding child marriage. We have already conducted meetings and slowly but steadily it is contributing to change their mind-set,” says Rokon, a second-year student at Bangabandhu University College, also a youth volunteer.
From homes to government, societies to institutions, many tend to overlook the youngsters, leading to less attention paid towards their growth. Conversely, the case of Bauniabadh allows children and youth to be empowered. Now the local government, families and the community rely on them due to their persistent work towards positive changes.
“Activities like vocational training on tailoring and electronics are offered in the community. We also help students who could not continue their studies due to different obstacles. We counsel with teachers, arrange for tuition waivers and also collectively provide money to them,” explained Sharmin, a first-year Accounting student at Shahid Zia Mohila Degree College.
The story of this youth group is no magical tale from Hogwarts, but a very real one carried out with real life actions. They are the leaders who are sweeping away ill practices from their society and protecting their community from harmful consequences.
These young members intend to spread these changes throughout the entire Mirpur area and believe that the positive changes will ripple across the city if such work can be replicated with proper guidance and care.