12-year-old boy Oli is making a big difference to families living in poverty in Bangladesh – and the country’s future. A sponsored child, he is an inspirational member of a Plan children’s group in northern Dhaka raising awareness of the impact of early and forced marriage on girls and their capacity to contribute to society.
The BBC broadcast a documentary about children’s role in ending early and forced marriage in Bangladesh and has produced a special film for schools.
In addition to performing street dramas, Oli's group steps in directly when they hear a marriage is planned. “We go to see the parents and try to get them to stop the marriage. We have tried this on many occasions - sometimes with success and sometimes we are not able to stop the marriage.”
The legal age for marriage is 18 for girls, and 21 for boys in Bangladesh. But many younger girls are made to give up their education to marry and raise families when they reach puberty – because they are seen as a financial burden with less potential to contribute to the household income than a son. Arranging for a daughter to marry an older man can seem like a good way to secure her future and a younger bride can mean lower dowry payments for her parents.
“Behind our parents’ decisions to marry girls young is poverty – extreme poverty. If our parents get a good offer, sometimes it is very difficult to change their minds,” explains Oli.
Spreading the word
Early and forced marriage contributes to driving girls into a cycle of poverty and powerlessness. They are likely to experience violence, abuse and forced sexual relations, poor sexual and reproductive health and illiteracy and lack of education – girls tend to drop out of school shortly before or when they get married.
Tamanna is a member of the group along with Oli. As a 13-year-old girl, she is passionate about spreading the word: “Because we are the citizens of a developing country, our people are not very aware of the negative effects of child marriage. I would like people in the UK to help us by listening to our message and helping us spread the word. Tell your friends! Tell everybody what is happening to our girls all over the world. If everybody knows then we can make a change.”
As well as raising awareness and intervening directly, with Plan’s support, the group is promoting birth registration. Tamanna explains, “If girls have birth registration then it is much easier to prevent the child marriage because we can prove that they are too young. At the time of marriage, many parents say ‘my child is over 18’ because there is no proof. But if the certificate is there then we can say ‘no, this is the age of your child, you cannot get them married at this time’”.
Their achievements so far
There are 25 children in Oli’s organisation and Plan has 60 similar clubs across the country. Plan has reached an estimated one million people with its anti-child marriage work while Oli himself has reached about 50,000. Plan staff in Bangladesh know of four child marriages that Oli’s club has directly prevented in his small district of the Bashentak slum alone.
“Oli is an inspiration. Child marriage is one of the worst violations of a child’s rights imaginable. It especially affects girls, robbing them of their childhood. Young campaigners like Oli are the future. His campaigning is influencing others and it's sweeping the country like wildfire. It’s become a movement which is why it’s reaching so many people,” says Plan International’s country director in Bangladesh, Myrna Evora. “In many ways, Oli is an exception, especially as he’s a boy because, it’s sad to say, that the mentality of men here needs to be changed because they think they have power over girls and young women.”
Just £3 can help us fight forced marriage and keep girls in school. Join the Plan today by making a donation or by signing our petition to end early and forced marriage. By making a donation or signing our petition you can help girls complete their education and have more choices about their future.
Find out more about Plan's work in Bangladesh.
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