“The way society looks at girls, sets the parameters for how to be a perfect girl – it’s absurd."”
One day at school, one of the classes was about child marriage. It was the first time Mitu ever heard that marrying so young was against the law. It was also the first time someone explained to her the consequences of a young girl getting married.
Mitu lives in a joint family, in a village not far from Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. She grew up knowing that girls are treated differently to boys in her village. She never questioned this; it was normal for her, it was normal for everybody around her.
That day in school, people from the Hello, I Am programme organized a class for Mitu and her class mates. Hello, I Am staff explained the dangers of being pregnant at a very young age, and the risks of exchanging dowry.
Mitu grew up in a conservative family, in a conservative village. And like most young people in her community, she adopted the conservative mindset that was all around her.
There are many rules for what girls can do, and for what is not allowed for them, in conservative communities in Bangladesh. Girls are not supposed to speak up. After a certain age they can’t go out without male company. They should not mingle with boys, and marriage is their first priority in life. Since early childhood, Mitu was aware that her life was heading in the direction of child marriage.
“I never had any male friends in my school. I believed that mixing with boys is taboo."”
Girls having equal rights to boys did not cross her mind.
She learnt about child brides. She learnt about the health risks girls face giving birth at a young age. She learnt about the harmful consequences of child marriage. She realized that all the young girls in her village were at risk of being married off before they had even grown up.
Mitu grew up knowing that her life would be focused on marriage and married life. But joining the courtyard sessions and training of Hello, I Am, changed mind. There her perspective changed.
“I matched all the criteria of a young, beautiful girl, I had long hair. So, they came to my family with a marriage proposal."”
But Mitu had different plans for her life. In protest of the way a girl is being checked out to be ‘given away’, she cut her hair short.
UNICEF research shows that Bangladesh has the third highest number of child marriage in the world; and the fourth highest prevalence of young girls bearing a child. The practice is not only common, it is also regarded as a valued social norm, a cherished tradition.
Young girls are vulnerable. They are not supposed to have an opinion of their own. Their families do not agree with girls being independent, neither does anyone else in the neighbourhood.
Mitu is in college now, pursuing higher education than most in her family and neighbourhood. And she became a team member of the Hello, I Am programme.
The best reward for Mitu is when people in her community become aware and start changing their minds, in favour of improving the lives of girls.
Sometimes, Mitu is threatened for doing her relentless effort to improve the lives of girls. But she doesn’t give up. She is determined to complete her studies and keep on working to create a world where girls are treated equal as boys, a world where girls and boys have equal rights.
Hello, I Am was a four-year programme working toward a supportive social environment in which young people in Bangladesh, especially adolescent girls and young women, can make informed choices about and enjoy their sexual and reproductive health and rights. It aims to realize a society in which girls and boys are equal, where girls and women have the same rights and chances as boys and men. The programme is led by Rutgers and implemented in collaboration with PSTC, RHSTEP, DSK and BBC Media Action Bangladesh.
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