Moni's fight to eliminate child marriage in her village
“If you constantly work in a selfless manner, the work itself will show you where you belong”
This is the message of Ashoka Youth Venturer, Moni, an 18 year old girls right advocate in Kulaura, Sylhet. She wants girls to take control of their destiny fighting for their right to education, health and freedom. With this goal in mind, Moni founded the ‘Unique Adolescence Club'. A club that seeks to empower children, especially girls, to become change agents in their community. The club currently has around 90 members in its 3 branches.
Great change comes from empathy. Moni traces her empathy to the hardest time in her childhood. She was only 9 years old when she first witnessed the negative implications of child marriage, she saw her sister getting married at the age of 12 and returning home after 15 days with bruises all over her body. Child marriage is a fate common across Bangladesh, with UNICEF estimating 52% of girls are married by the age of 18. Deeply touched by this incident, Moni struggled to understand what was happening but knew that she wanted to fight for change. When the opportunity came, she joined the BRAC girl adolescent club and went on to become a ‘Teen leader’ of the ‘Teen Trust Club’ and was trained in the NGO’s ‘Adolescent Development Program’ at only 12 years old. This was a key moment in her journey as a changemaker. She went on to teach children important life skills, such as advocacy and teamwork, as well as advocating her belief that girls are never a burden. This was the perfect platform to talk about social issues such as gender equality, child trafficking, the torture of women, family planning and teaching the problem-solving skills that are key to change.
Stopping over 200 child marriages from happening she has changed countless lives and inspired many. Moni started to make change by visiting every family in the village explaining the health, social and human rights problems with child marriage. She started by randomly showing up at the marriage ceremonies and trying to convince the parents it was wrong.
“I tell them the importance of education and why girls are not a burden to the family. I ask them to spend marriage money on education and this way the girls can get better groom,” said Moni.
Rather than preaching the adverse effects of child marriage, Moni focuses on showing solutions to the families. In parallel, she strikes conversations with the girls and trains them on how to say “No”. She empowers them to speak their mind and confront their parents when marriage is forced upon them.
For instance, when parents talk about the safety of the girls and how getting them married is preventing them from getting raped and exploited, Moni tells them that it is usually the husband that rapes the young wife in such cases. “Just because your daughter is married doesn’t mean she is happy. I try to emotionally tackle these things,” Moni said.
She often involves police and government officials when the matter becomes difficult to handle on her own. She has learned the laws and legal powers a girl is entitled to use. She has contacted different NGOs, took their support while creating a network of influential people who show up to support her every time she needs a helping hand.
“It was extremely difficult to break into the orthodox system of the village. But I kept trying. And when they realised that I am not giving up and in fact, police are with me, they started taking me seriously,” she said.
She has also created a network of youth club members that look for and monitor child marriages. Through her training of the community she is changing minds and giving children agency in fighting for the right to childhood. She cannot change the community alone and works with a supportive team consisting of her family, friends and members of the wider community such as the police and authorities. She is training more young people to recognize and stop child marriage in the community with the goal of eradicating child marriage forever.
If you or someone you know is, like Moni, making a big or small change in their community, and is between the ages of 12 and 20, then get them to apply for Ashoka’s Youth Venture programme in Bangladesh.
For the Bangla version of this article click here.
Written - Maesha Rashedin
Edited - Jake Smaje