Sponsored child, Dola, proclaims to the world that girls are not a burden
“Many people of Bangladesh treat girl children as a burden. My mother was also a victim of that kind of mentality,” Dola shared. She remembered asking her mother to describe memories from her childhood, but her mother struggled to recall much. She had been forced into child marriage at 13. “From her childhood she had to manage a family.”
“She dreamed of becoming a banker, but her father and mother treated her as a burden,” Dola said. “They forced her to get married. She faced physical and mental violence from her husband.”
Dola nearly suffered the same fate at 12 years old when community members insisted that she be married off to “a very good boy”. Dola’s mother turned them away, determined to keep her child in school. She didn’t see Dola as a burden. She knew her daughter was a blessing.
Inspired by her mother, Dola has been advocating with World Vision to end child marriage since she was 10 years old. Dola, now 16, continues to show that girls are a blessing to their families. Addressing the United Nations on Day of the Girl Child 2019, she declared, “Girls are not a burden. Girls can go further than we imagined.”
Addressing poverty protects children
Many families fear they can’t provide for their children’s basic needs and safety. Nearly 40% of girls in the world’s poorest countries are married as children. “In my country, some parents, especially from traditional communities, believe that child marriage is a way of protecting their daughters,” Dola said.
Tragically, they’re wrong. Child marriage is devastating to young girls. They are in fact more likely to stay in poverty, often due to cutting their education short, and their safety is significantly reduced. Like Dola’s mother, girls who are married as children are likelier to be the victims of domestic violence and abuse. They are also at a higher risk of dying from childbirth.
At World Vision, we know that to have an impact on child marriage, we must address poverty. By tackling the root causes of poverty, we’ve helped protect over 200 million vulnerable children.
Empowering girls through child sponsorship
One of those vulnerable children was Dola, who was sponsored through World Vision at 4 years old.
Child sponsorship protects children like Dola from violence. We can’t do it alone, so we engage with communities and parents and the children themselves to teach and inspire them to come together against child marriage and other forms of violence against children. Dola’s mother was supported in standing up for her daughter’s education. Dola was trained and empowered to advocate for her rights.
“Every day with World Vision is a precious moment for me,” Dola said. “In this platform I've grown up, I've learnt about my rights. I became a leader.”
Being a sponsored child means being seen. Staff and volunteers commit to caring for and looking out for every child. They know each child’s personal situation and are proactively working to keep them safe.
When Dola reflected on 12 years with World Vision, it was her child sponsor that stood out most. “My sponsor used to send me a lot of letters, lots of gifts. These things encouraged me and make me feel good.” Dola was inspired by the fact that her sponsor was “from a very far country,” but still, “she is connected with me.”
“Whenever there is a person reminds you of your birthday, of your special days, they send you letters, prayers, these things make me feel good.” Being known is empowering. Dola was seen by her sponsor. Dola concluded, “She came in my life like a blessing of God.”
At World Vision, our hope for every child is life in all its fullness. Together, we can empower children, joining with them to transform their communities.
Children have the right to a safe and secure childhood
Children have rights. Among those are the rights to peace, health, dignity, equality, safety, education, and freedom from abuse. When they understand those rights, children are less vulnerable to exploitation.
When children are empowered to enjoy their rights, they can become a powerful force for change. When children and young people learn to communicate opinions, take responsibility and make decisions, they develop a sense of belonging, justice, responsibility and solidarity – all of which can be pivotal to ending violence in their generation, and the next.
Moved by her mother’s lack of a childhood, at only 10 years old, Dola volunteered with her local child forum. She was glad to find out it was supported by World Vision. Dola described it as “a child-led organization working for child rights and protection,” which works “to create a child-friendly environment, where children can enjoy their rights.”
Before long, Dola was on the leadership team. “I really love this role,” she said. Over the last few years, the child forum worked to raise awareness about child marriage and informed children of their rights. Through school campaigns, posters, and social media, they reached 70,000 children.
“My child forum works to stop child marriage,” Dola said. “We, as children, engage in actions to end child marriage because we know other children’s pain and how much they suffer.”
“In Bangladesh, 18 years is technically the minimum age of marriage,” Dola informed. “Unfortunately, the law is rarely enforced.” In fact, Bangladesh has one of the highest child marriage rates in the world. Nearly 60% of girls in Bangladesh are married before their 18th birthday.
When a classmate is in danger of child marriage, the child forum takes action. They know their rights. Through the child forum, girls are empowered to ask for meetings with community leaders, to talk to school principals, and to write letters to local law enforcement officers. They demand that adults uphold the law and intervene.
“Together we have stopped 600 child marriages,” Dola stated. “I did not do this work alone,” she added, proud of her child forum’s accomplishments.
At World Vision, we work to create space and opportunities to empower children to reach their fullest potential. We stand by them and amplify their voices. Together we can build lasting change.
Dola participated in Day of the Girl Child 2019 at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. “This was one of the most memorable things in my life,” she said. “I saw there are lots of opportunities to speak about your own rights, and there are a lot of opportunities to raise awareness.”
When given the opportunity to address the UN, she shared how her mother was treated like a burden. She hoped her mother’s story would inspire change. She proclaimed to the world, “We need to work together to stop child marriage. Parents and teachers should discuss about child marriage with children. Girls are not a burden. Girls can go further than we imagined.”
She concluded, “Please pray for the child forum of Bangladesh so that we can continue our works and raise our voices to ensure child rights and protection in Bangladesh.”
Dola’s UN speech was an extraordinary moment in her life, but she explained that she is most proud of the continued opportunities she has to participate and to speak in front of people. “The most important thing is that every person and staff at World Vision will listen to you, and they will give you the opportunity to raise your voice. And these things really inspire me and make me proud that we are working with persons who are so much dedicated to the children and who are so much dedicated to hear their voices.”
She summarized her experience with World Vision: “They have time to hear us. They give priority to children. This is important.”
“Because of this pandemic we get stuck at home.” It should come as no surprise by now that despite her circumstances, Dola continues to fight against child marriage. She is still advocating online through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. “We are fighters, and we will still fight to achieve our rights,” she said.
According to World Vision’s Aftershocks report, millions more girls globally will be married in the next two years as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns.
Dola’s child forum continues to focus on child marriage, but they are also advocating for gender equality, as well as Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), a collection of 17 global goals for a better future. “Because we thought that to build a beautiful and peaceful world, children should give focus on SDG,” Dola explains.
She’s thinking about her future, too. “I want to be a journalist and continue my education,” she said. She also wants to work on creating an app “where anyone can complain about child marriage.” She believes it would help authorities by keeping documents accessible digitally, “so that it can't be destroyed.”
“Right now, I want to focus on Bangladesh, and then I want to move globally to end child marriage.”
It’s time to end child marriage now
It takes all of us to end child marriage. World Vision’s global campaign, It takes a world to end violence against children, is our promise to do everything we can to make a safer world for children.
Girls are not a burden. They are a blessing to their families, their communities, and to the world.
Be part of our global campaign. Amplify children’s voices.
Join Dola in calling on governments to ban child marriage, implement existing laws, and fund services to prevent and respond to child marriage. It’s time to end child marriage now.