Rahima* was just 14 years old when she came home from school and found out she was to be married to someone she never met.
Growing up in rural Bangladesh, she knew lots of girls who were expected to go through an early arranged marriage, but she was shocked it was happening to her.
“I did not know what to do,” she said. “When I found out, I cried a lot. I did not know whether I should speak out or not.”
Child marriage is an abusive practice that traps children in dangerous situations and limits their ability to develop and make their own choices. Our research shows that girls who marry early face a higher risk of psychiatric disorders in adulthood are more like to be pregnant as adolescents, face a higher risk of dying from childbirth and are more likely to experience intimate partner violence. But, despite being a violation of human rights, the practice is still common today.
More than half of girls in Bangladesh are married before their 18th birthday, a rate that’s higher in poor and rural communities. The decision to marry off a daughter can be financially motivated: when parents are struggling to provide for their children, marrying one off means one less child to feed. In places where a dowry, or financial payment for the bride, is customary, child marriage also can be a way for families to acquire much-needed money or livestock. It can seem like a win-win for families who believe they are securing their daughters’ future while also building their own financial security.
With all this stacked against her, it felt like Rahima* had no other option than to accept her fate. That was until she heard about Monika.
Monika is just a few years older than Rahima*, but also comes from a family where child marriage was seen as the norm. However, Monika avoided being married off because she was sponsored.
“In various sessions at World Vision, I came to know about the physical and psychological damage child marriage has on a child,” she explains. Even though both her mother and her sister were married as children, she was able to choose a different path after she shared what she had learned with her family.
But Monika didn’t stop there. Knowing the effects child marriage was having in her community, Monika decided to take a stand with a group of friends. Now, at just 18, she and her team are on the frontlines of the battle against child marriage by exposing its harm to local families and the authorities.
“So far I have stopped 10 marriages,” she says. “My team and I believe that child marriage can be prevented if we all work together.”
The news of what Monika was doing reached Rahima*. Monika was someone Rahima* felt safe reaching out to, despite that the action would be seen as going directly against her parent's wishes.
“I told Monika's team about this,” said Rahima*. “Her team came to my house and told my mother that it is not right to get married at this age.”
“My mother said to them, what should I do, we are poor people, we do not have money for her education, so we are getting her married off at a young age,” explained Rahima*.
Monika’s team was quick to act.
“When we get information about any child marriage, we immediately inform the local administration,” explains Monika. “With their help, we stop child marriage through the mobile court as well.”
Thanks to Monika and her team who managed to convince Rahima’s parents that child marriage is harmful as well as alert the authorities, Rahima*’s marriage was stopped. She is now back in school, dreaming of becoming a lawyer - and sharing with other girls what she learned through her experience about the power of speaking up. And so the ripple effect of Monika’s sponsorship continues, transforming the world that girls in her community live in, for good.
Right now, girls all over the world are being forced into violent realities like child marriage, child labour, and abuse. But sponsorship is helping to change that because for every child who is sponsored, four more children in their community benefit.
You can fight for the rights of a girl like Rahima*.
*Name changed to protect the identity