Image via HRW.
Image via HRW

After Sharmin’s family’s house and possessions were destroyed by flooding, her family tried to start again with a new house. This house was washed away as well, as was the subsequent one. Sharmin’s family had 5 homes in all, which were all destroyed by flooding. With all of these hardships and with an inability to provide for her basic necessities or to feed her, her family married her off. Rather than express anger, Sharmin understood and sympathized with their position, questioning, “What could my parents do?”

While arranged marriage is generally looked down on in Western society, many could understand the difficult circumstances that led to Sharmin’s situation. However, the fact that Sharmin was only 14 years old at the time of her marriage — and that in her home country, Bangladesh, 29% of girls are married before the age of 15 — casts a different light on her story.

An infographic via Girls Not Brides, a civil partnership of more than 450 organizations that seeks to eliminate child marriage in the developing world.
An infographic via Girls Not Brides, a civil partnership of more than 450 organizations that seeks to eliminate child marriage in the developing world.

A recent video by the nonprofit group Human Rights Watch (HRW) acts as part of a greater campaign on the organization’s part to raise awareness of the child marriage epidemic in Bangladesh. HRW also hopes to prevent Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, from lowering the minimum age of marriage in the country from 18 to 16. Many are strongly opposed to this revision to the law, with one writer even stating that the government should “protect young women from regressive customs that limit their potential, not change the rules to massage government statistics.”

Sharmin isn’t the only girl who is interviewed in HRW’s video. A report called “Marry Before Your House Is Swept Away: Child Marriage in Bangladesh” includes over 100 accounts, several of which are included in the video. The video’s narrator explains the difficult circumstances, such as flooding and extreme poverty, that lead to child marriage, acknowledging that “child marriage becomes a survival strategy for families.”

Knowledge of the complex situations leading to this issue doesn’t make their stories easier to hear, though. Part of the video focuses on two sisters: Parvin, married at age 11, and Belkis, married at age 13. Parvin studied until fourth grade, at which time her family could no longer afford to support her. Sent to work at a house as a maid for three years, she received no pay and was treated poorly. Belkis began working as a maid at age 10 and married at age 13. Her husband and in-laws were physically and emotionally abusive, but she was able to escape to her father’s house.

Any one person or organization can’t do much about this issue since it is based in deeply ingrained values and long-held beliefs in society. Some of these issues are sensitive topics that may be difficult to talk about in a community — such as the issues of inequality inherent in marrying off girls and the disregard for a girl’s right to an education.

A number of organizations have turned to theater as the answer to these societal issues. Groups like Wedding Busters — an organization of children dedicated to ending child marriage — and Theatre for Development — which aims to enable people to discuss difficult issues through artistic expression — use drama as a medium to express the dangers of child marriage in an accessible way.

This movement is based on children helping one another. Tanzila, a 12-year-old girl who works with Wedding Busters, explains in HRW’s video: “As a girl, I don’t want another girl’s life to be ruined. I want her to be free the same way I’m free.”

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