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Girl power at work in Bangladesh

10 October 2019, Impact of Our Work

Smart, savvy and charismatic, 19-year-old Jasmin is a natural leader 

At just 15 years of age, Shumi was facing the prospect of being married to a man she had never met. Against her will and with the potential to do huge damage to her mental and physical well-being, her future life chances looked grim.  

That was until her neighbour, 19-year-old Jasmin stepped in. Jasmin is a Save the Children-trained peer leader, who runs an advocacy group for girls in their remote village in Bangladesh. She spoke with Shumi’s parents and began the difficult task of getting them to change their minds about their teenage daughter’s future. 

“She told my parents that my age was not suitable for marriage,” says Shumi. “She suggested to them that they allow me to study.”

 Shumi left and Jasmin right.

The training she received from Save the Children helped Jasmin convince Shumi’s parents. “Before, we didn’t know the dangers of early marriage – the physical and mental ones. We also learned the risks for the baby if the girl is married early,” she explains. “We have the opportunity to educate older people in the community – we make them aware of the negatives of early marriage. Like with Shumi’s parents.”​

Shumi’s father, Atique confirms, “When I realised and learned from people that it’s not good to arrange marriage before the girls are 18, I stopped it. It was an emotional decision for me and her mother. But I believe I made a good decision.”

Thanks to Jasmin’s intervention, Shumi will get the chance to complete her studies. “I want to be successful in life,” says Shumi. “Now I’ll complete my education and become a good human being.” 

Shumi is just one of so many children who can look forward to a brighter future thanks to your support

Jasmin’s success as a peer leader hasn’t come easily

Jasmin is smart, savvy and charismatic - a natural leader with an easy smile. But things haven’t always been easy for her. She had to drop out of school herself when she was young. “I was in school until year 7, aged 12 or 13. I couldn’t afford education after that”, she explains. But that experience just made her more determined to support other girls in her community.

At a program run by Save the Children in Bangladesh, Jasmin was trained to run education sessions especially targeted at adolescent girls on issues like good nutrition, hygiene and early marriage. She has won great respect for the way she teaches and empowers girls, supports them to generate an income for their families, and helps change how girls are valued and treated in her community.

Saving young girls from child marriage is just one of the child protection programs Save the Children runs around the world. Protecting children is an important part of the work we do, to give all children a life free from violence, abuse and exploitation.  

The damaging consequences of child marriage 

The fact is, parents don’t usually marry off their young teenage girls out of cruelty or callousness. They do it because, in the toughest places in the world, it has often been seen as the best way to give their children a secure future. But the consequences for girls forced into child marriage can be devastating: abuse or neglect from a husband they barely know, early, dangerous pregnancy, and the end of their education and any chance of building a future of their choosing.

The Sylhet region in Bangladesh, where Jasmin and Shumi live, is flood-prone with a high percentage of very poor households.  Chronic malnutrition is prevalent, and around 46% of children suffer stunted growth. Early marriage exacerbates this problem with babies born to adolescent girls at greater risk of stunting. Girls are traditionally marginalised suffering from a lack of financial independence, personal freedom, education and control over their lives. 

A program working on multiple fronts to meet complex challenges

Our program in the region works on multiple fronts to meet the many challenges facing the community. It helps educate and empower families to support their children’s nutrition during their most crucial stage of development – between conception and the age of two through a holistic program of activities. It also directly addresses the problem of early marriage through groups led by trained peer mentors, like Jasmin, and support staff who educate and empower teenage girls.

For Jasmin and Shumi, the program has provided a sense of empowerment and hope for a better future, “It was a good feeling stopping the child marriage,” Jasmin says. 

Images: Tom Merilion/Save The Children

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