Living in fear of child marriage

I sat down on the steps of a small rural high school in Brahmanbaria, Bangladesh, expectantly waiting to talk with some of the girls who have received scholarships from World Concern. Dressed in her blue and white uniform, 16-year-old Rima sat down next to me. I started asking questions about school – what she enjoys studying and her future plans.

With her first words, tears spilled down her cheeks. Staring off into the distance and weeping, she told me that from the time she was 14, her father has been trying to marry her off.

Rima lives in constant fear of being married off to an older man.
Rima lives in constant fear of being married off to an older man.

“My father works as a guard at the hospital. He works all night, but only earns 4,000 taka ($52) per month,” Rima explained through her tears.

The oldest of four children, Rima carries an emotional burden for the constant struggle her family experiences living in such poverty.

“We don’t eat well,” she said.

“My father keeps telling my mom, ‘I am only earning so little, how can I afford to pay for education? I want to get Rima married,’ but my mom says, ‘No, no, no, she must go to school.’”

“My dad says, ‘There is no use of her studies because she is going to get married anyway and go to the house of her husband and she will end up washing dishes in the kitchen…’”

Rima’s mother was married to her father at just 13. She knows the reality of being a child bride and bearing children far too young. She wants Rima to have a better life than she’s had.

“My mom is preventing him from marrying me off,” Rima said. “I don’t want to get married, but my dad keeps telling me, ‘If you left, then I would be able to take care of my other children better.’”

In Bangladeshi culture—especially amongst the poorest people—it is common for girls as young as 10 or 12 years to be married off to men in their thirties or forties.

Rima is at such a tender age. She dreams of finishing high school, going to college, and becoming a teacher one day.

“I want to be a teacher and teach poor children in my area, free of cost,” she said.

Rima dreams of finishing school and becoming a teacher so she can teach children from poor families like hers.
Rima dreams of finishing school and becoming a teacher so she can teach children from poor families like hers.

But instead of dreaming about her future, she lives under the constant threat of being sent to live with a man she doesn’t even know. Some of her friends have already gotten married. And some already have babies.

“Please don’t cross my name off the [scholarship] list,” she pleaded. “If World Concern didn’t help us, I would have gotten married a long time ago, and my life would have been in the darkness.”

No adolescent girl should have to live in fear of being forced to get married. An educated girl is six times less likely to be married off during her teen years. You can provide a scholarship for a girl like Rima for an entire year for just $50 and change her future.

For Girls, School Can Mean Escaping Child Marriage, Poverty, and Abuse

“I want to be the first girl from this village to go to high school.”

As 12-year-old Jackline spoke these words, she glanced up nervously to see if anyone listening to her believed it was possible.

Jackline outside primary school.
You can help a girl like Jackline be the first in her village to attend high school.

Jackline is a soft-spoken girl from rural Kenya. And she knows that in this part of the world if she doesn’t go to high school, she’ll likely be married off soon—to a man not of her choosing—just like her four sisters were.

But Jackline has a dream of a different kind of life. She dreams of the kind of life you or I would want for our children.

“My father is a sheep trader. He sells animals for money,” explained Jackline. In order for her to attend high school, her father would have to sacrifice too much of his flock, and risk losing the family’s livelihood completely if there was a drought.

“I’m the first girl in my family to go to primary school,” shared Jackline shyly.

In her village, girls Jackline’s age and younger who are not able to attend primary school are living a bleak and sometimes brutal reality.

Girls in Jackline's primary class.
Girls in Jackline’s primary class.

“They are caring for sheep. They don’t get to play, and they don’t go to school,” she explained. “Sometimes they are beaten by their parents if they make a mistake.”

In her Maasai culture, polygamy is still practiced, which means each of her sisters probably became co-wives of older men who have established flocks of sheep and income to support another young wife. Like most girls in this culture, her sisters will probably have several children by the time they reach 20 years old.

It gets worse… many young girls are subjected to female circumcision—a horrific practice that leaves them permanently marred. “If I were not in school, the process would have started to marry me off,” explained a sweet 10-year-old girl in Jackline’s village. “First, I would be circumcised, then married.”

A high school education for a girl can mean escaping child marriage, extreme poverty, and even abuse.

Listed on this chalk board in Jackline's classroom are some of the struggles girls in rural Kenya face.
Listed on this chalk board in Jackline’s classroom are some of the struggles girls in rural Kenya face.

But something has happened in a nearby village… something Jackline can hardly imagine. One of the girls who received a high school scholarship from World Concern has been accepted to a Kenyan university. Not only was she among the few girls in this region to attend high school, now she’s headed to college.

Jackline and her teacher, who inspires her to become a teacher one day herself and ensure other girls have the opportunity to go to school.
Jackline and her teacher, who inspires her to become a teacher one day herself and ensure other girls have the opportunity to go to school.

“I just want to go to the farthest possible level and complete school,” said Jackline. And if she gets this chance, she wants to make sure other girls have the same opportunity. “I want to become a teacher when I finish school so I can teach in this school.”

Happy girls in schoolI know that when girls are educated, amazing things can happen. I’ve seen it, and it’s life-changing. When you donate to the School4Girls campaign, $50 can provide an entire year of education for a girl like Jackline.

Turn her dream into reality by helping a girl like Jackline be the first in her village to attend high school. You’ll change her future and the future of her entire community.

Donate today:

Let’s do more than talk about educating girls

Malala Yousafzai’s tragic experience of being shot for her advocacy of girls’ rights has brought much attention to the importance of and need for girls’ education worldwide. As Malala celebrates her 16th birthday with a visit to the UN, all eyes are on the world’s response.

Will we simply talk about the importance of educating girls? Or will we do something?

Christine in Kenya.
Christine was the only girl in her class in secondary school in rural Kenya. Now, she’s a role model for other girls in her community to pursue their education.

When I think of the incredible challenges faced by girls in developing countries to pursue an education, I think of girls like Christine.

Unlike most girls her age, Christine is one of the few in her rural Kenyan community to complete her education. Throughout secondary school, she was the only girl in her class. “It was difficult,” she said.

In this part of the world, most girls her age are either married off young—some as young as 10-years-old—or cannot afford to pay school fees. When finances are tight, parents tend to pay for their sons to go to school, rather than daughters. World Concern provides scholarships for girls like Christine to finish school.

Because she did not marry young, Christine and her family were ridiculed by others for their decision to pursue education. She found it hard to relate to her friends. But this never weakened her determination.

A young girl studying in Bangladesh.
A young girl studying in Bangladesh.

Christine is waiting for the results from her secondary exams so she can apply to university. “I want to become a dentist so that I can come back to the village and help others. One day I want to start a school to educate more girls.”

Christine is now a role model for girls in her community.

“The few girls in the area who are not married off are working hard so they can reach the level I’ve reached,” she said. Twirling her braids for a moment, she paused, then said, “I tell them to work hard because life is so hard.”

“In Maasai land, girls are very vulnerable,” explains Jennifer Warabi, the head teacher at a nearby primary school that provides scholarships for at-risk girls. “Parents send boys to school over girls. We have rescued many girls who were married at a young age, and brought them to school so they can continue their education.”

Ms. Warabi has taken a special interest in one of her teen students named Agnes, who was already married and pregnant when she came to the school. She gave birth while living at the school, but has been able to continue her studies. “She’s performing well,” said Ms. Warabi.

The situation in places like Haiti is critical too. Crushing poverty keeps many girls from attending school, and even fewer from completing their education.

It is especially important to support girls in their pursuit of education.  According to UNICEF, only 52% of girls in Haiti participate in primary school and the number drops to 21% in secondary.  The need is obvious, and the solution is simple.  Not only does an education provide increased social and economic opportunities for a girl but it helps break the cycle of poverty in her family and community.

After finishing high school, Manoucha hopes to become a nurse and help people in her rural village in Haiti.
After finishing high school, Manoucha hopes to become a nurse so she can help others in her rural village in Haiti.

Manoucha is 19 years old but still has a couple of years left of high school.  “I like to go to school but I have lost some years because I was sick,” explained Manoucha.

Although she has experienced challenges, Manoucha is committed to finishing high school.  “It’s the best way to help your family,” she said. She also has a dream of being able to help others one day. “When I become older I want to be a nurse because if someone is to get sick I will be able to give them aid.”

World Concern is helping Manoucha finish her education. In Haiti, we do this by providing young people like her a way to earn income and pay school fees. Manoucha received a goat and training on how to care for her goat.

Her goat’s first baby was returned to the program so it can be given to another child. This way, the program can sustain itself and kids are able to learn a skill and are given ownership.

A young girl works hard in her classroom in Laos.
A young girl works hard in her classroom in Laos.

“Once there are more baby goats I will sell them to purchase things I need,” she said.  “It will help me pay for school fees.”

You can help a girl like Christine or Manoucha finish her education, pursue her dreams and change the future of her entire community. As we stand in awe of Malala’s courage today, let’s help her celebrate this milestone birthday by taking action.

Click here to give the gift of education to a girl in need. $50 provides an entire year of schooling in a poor community.

“I want every girl, every child to be educated.” – Malala Yousafzai