Dola Akhter, a Bangladeshi girl who prevent hundreds of Child Marriage

By Jannat Islam Oishee

Child marriage was not the name of a small disaster and the Corona virus turned the tragedy into another dimension. Covid19 pandemic has pushed up the numbers of child marriage taking place in the country. According to UNICEF – In recent years Bangladesh has the highest prevalence of child marriage in South Asia and ranks among 10 countries in the world with the highest levels. But the steps taken by the 16year old to prevent child marriage at a young age are too big to expect but the work done by this girl and her compatriots under World Vision’s National Youth Forum give reason for hope.

In an interview with SBS News from Bangladesh, published in 20-9-2020. In that interview Dola said that- when she was only 12, a matchmaker in their neighborhood came knocking on her mother’s door, believing the young girl would make a good wife. She also said that-  “Some of her neighbors did that kind of work and they came to her mum and told her that- ‘give your child for marriage,” I know a very good boy who can marry your child’,” she told SBS News from Bangladesh. She also added that her own mother was married when she was 13 to a man eight years her senior, for that reason she was not able to share her childhood memories, when I asked her.

It was between the time 2016 or 2017 and Dola Akhter Reba was then a school girl. But in that mean time, she was already a part of World Vision’s National Youth Forum- a platform for youth activists. Dola joined World Vision, to receive some training, and has been part of a team of adults and children advocating for an end to violence against children. According to the Business Standard, it was sometimes 2016 or 2017, when a friend had called her up to let her know about a child marriage which was taking place in Mohammadpur of the capital. “I knew the young girl was not ready for marriage. Her face was swollen from crying a lot and she looked miserable. She was still crying when we saw her,” said Dola.   As quickly as possible Dola and her colleagues reached the spot along with police officers at the local police station, they were met with strong opposition from the neighbors and the bride’s family members. “At one point, I thought the mob was going to attack us. I got frightened. But I just kept on requesting the mother to talk to me. Somehow, I felt she would listen,” she said about the experience.

In the end, the victim’s mother listened to Dola, and she spoke to the father in turn and the marriage was stopped. In the interview Dola said that- “I knew if I could convince the mother, I would be able to do something. When mothers understand what is best for their daughters, everything becomes easier.” In the last two years, Dola and her colleagues who work in Mohammadpur, Adabar, and Sher-e-Bangla stopped around 600 child marriages from taking place. 

Dola, now 16, is one of several young activists working with child rights advocates to educate parents about the harm that can be done to children if they are married off at a young age. Since she was 10, she has also been a member of the World Vision Child Forums. Previous year, she visited the United Nations in Geneva, where she spoke on behalf of girls in her home country and shared the success of her work.

 She said that- “The Child Forum is working hard to stop child marriage and we have been successful, but there are too many additional things needed to protect girls.”  She also said that- “We, as children, engage in actions to end child marriage because we know other children’s pain and how much they suffer. When a child gets married under the age of 18, they face many challenges including increased risk of child and mother mortality, school dropout, domestic violence and abuse.”

  The charity not only worked for child marriage but also they use donations to sponsor girls at risk around the world, including in Africa and Nepal. It says it has been working hand in hand with communities in Bangladesh to prevent child marriages by directly engaging with families through clubs and child forums, and training them and their parents to be proactive in stopping the practice. World Visions said, Four million girls are at risk of child marriage in the next two years because of the corona virus pandemic and Bangladesh has one of the highest child marriage rates in the world, more than half of the girls married before they turn 18. Child marriage is not only a problem in Bangladesh, according to the United Nations Family Planning Association globally 23 girls under 18 are married every minute and over the next decade, 13 million child marriages are forecast due to the economic impacts of COVID-19.

In many cases girls are considered a burden and this pandemic is just a reason to prove it right. Because it takes a lot of money to marry a girl and that’s why many people think it is a burden and not only this many people also think that the sooner a girl is married the better and this pandemic are being pushed families into poverty and this became a good excuse for those, who think if there is no money, the girl cannot be married. According to the “Global Girlhood Report 78.6 million child marriages have been prevented over the last 25 years across the globe but even before the coronavirus pandemic, progress to end the practice had slowed to a halt. The report titled “Global Girlhood Report 2020: Covid-19 and progress in peril” was released on October 12.

Child marriage is a serious problem in Bangladesh but the authorities have been trying their best to prevent that but there is still long process to go. A new report from UNICEF calls for accelerated action to end child marriage in Bangladesh by 2030. To  prevent this, it is not possible for the authorities alone ,for this we need all the people to stand up to prevent it and in this case everyone must first change their way of thinking that girls are not  burdens on anyone. They also need to understand that it is a crime to marry girls at a young age. However, the majority of population in Bangladesh does not believe marrying children is a form of sexual violence. For that reason, we need many more volunteers like Dola to help us prevent this and who will awaken the public to this. 

Unikorn Staff
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