Bangladeshi teen avoids early marriage, stays in school

The United Nations has declared October 11 as International Day of the Girl. This inspiring story of 15-year-old Suborna in Bangladesh — who was able to avoid underage marriage and stay in school — highlights World Vision’s global efforts to empower girls and women worldwide.

By Gloria Das, World Vision Bangladesh
Published September 19, 2012 at 12:00am PDT

In a Bangladeshi village, a group of school girls sing a celebratory melody in a classroom. The underage marriage of their friend, 15-year-old Suborna, has been annulled.

These girls are members of a children’s group that works with World Vision. Suborna, a sponsored child, is also part of the group. In fact, she helped start it.

Little did she know, however, that she would one day need its assistance.

“[The group has] weekly meetings where we get together in a safe place to learn, have fun, and talk about what is happening in our communities,” Suborna explains.

It’s part of a series of child-focused interventions by World Vision to fight child marriage — a practice that continues across Bangladesh, particularly in rural communities, even though it’s illegal.

“World Vision has changed my life,” Suborna says.

A life-altering event

Recently, Suborna’s father arranged a husband for her. The family couldn’t afford to keep her in school.

“When my father told me I was going to be married off, I felt my life had been ruined,” Suborna remembers. “I visualized a life like that of my mother — marriage, lots of children. Full stop. All dreams shattered.”

When the children’s group learned about Suborna’s situation, they contacted her parents.

Temporary resolution

In class, Suborna performed brilliantly. She went to go live with her uncle, Helal, who lives closer to her school.

“Neither of her parents can read nor write, so she was not supposed to be allowed to go to school,” explains Helal. “So, I took her with me.”

Unfortunately, like her parents, Helal couldn’t afford his niece’s education. But the girl soon became involved with World Vision’s child sponsorship program and received support.

Things were going well. Suborna graduated from primary school and was admitted to sixth grade, where she earned grades at the top of her class.

“I was just thrilled with joy when I remember the first day of my new class,” Suborna says. “I still could feel the smell of my new books. Thank you, World Vision, my real friend [when I am] in need.”

Crisis revisited

Suborna decided to share the good news with her parents. But they were unimpressed and again raised the issue of marriage.

“This time, I told my mother, who also did not agree with me, and they locked me at my room,” says Suborna. “Then, I sought help.”

She pretended to become seriously ill and was taken to a nearby hospital, where she escaped and returned to her uncle. She was safe, at least for the time being.

Suborna immediately contacted the children’s group and told them what had happened. In turn, the group contacted a World Vision staff member, who talked to Suborna’s parents about the law and consequences of underage marriage.

Finally, her parents agreed not to force their daughter to marry before the age of 18. But they said they still couldn’t afford her education.

Empowerment for a brighter future

So World Vision helped Suborna complete a life-skills training course, which equipped her to coach volunteer groups at the community level — and earn some money for her work.

Now, she teaches rural households about social and development issues like health; water, sanitation, and hygiene; women and child rights; and dowries and early marriage.

As Suborna’s story illustrates, success stems from an approach of empowering the children and adolescents whose futures are at stake. Her track record is commendable. She and her friends in the children’s group have prevented many other underage marriages in her village.

“World Vision has made my parents proud of me. I finally made my father understand that his daughters could be his support in old age,” Suborna reports, adding that she now dreams of becoming a teacher. “And I succeeded. My youngest two sisters are now also going to school.”

Shahid Fakir, who was once disgusted with his daughter’s refusal to cooperate, confirms his own change of heart. “I was going to make a big mistake, but my daughter stopped us in the nick of time,” he smiles.

Three ways you can help

Thank God for instilling in Suborna a passion to pursue her studies and advocate against child marriage. Pray for her continued success in school and that her story would serve as a positive example for others.

Make a one-time donation to help provide education for girls. Poverty, discrimination, and exploitation keep millions of girls out of school around the world. Your gift will help change this reality and give girls a chance to pursue their dreams and be a positive influence in their communities.

Sponsor a girl in Bangladesh. In addition to providing other basics like nutritious food, clean water, and medical care, your love and support for a girl in need will help her stay in school and avoid tragedies like exploitation or underage marriage.