Married and abandoned at 16: the forgotten girls of Dhaka

Married and abandoned at 16: the forgotten girls of Dhaka

Imagine being forced out from home and marry a total stranger. Being legally abused, and then discarded. Abandoned for no apparent reason. Imagine going through this while still being a teenager.

Unfortunately this is a not-so-uncommon story in the northern outskirts of Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital. The country has one of the highest rates of child marriage, with more than half of Bangladeshi girls marrying before adulthood.

“I got married at 13 or 14 years old, while I was still at school. It would have been better if I could have said no. The day after the wedding he did it forcibly. When he grabbed me, I screamed. I felt very scared but he said, ‘There’s nothing to fear, all girls do it after marriage. You’re not a child any more. You’re married now so you’ll have to do and listen to what I say.’ Three months later, he left”, said 15-year-old Rogina , who had been married off to a man 12 years her senior.

Rogina moved to the Duaripara slum after being abandoned by the man she had married at the age of 13 or 14

Rogina moved to the Duaripara slum after being abandoned by the man she had married at the age of 13 or 14 (Credit: Arshad Ron)

 

The BBC News channel did a documentary about girls from Duaripara, a slum that is home to more than 40,000 people. For teenage girls, life here is tough. Most of them were married and abandoned before they were 16 years old.
Marriage and money go hand in hand in Bangladesh. Girls are often married off in the hope that their husband will look after them and feed them when their families cannot. But all too often, once married, the husband demands
dowries that the girl’s family simply cannot pay.

Sharmin was married at 14. Before long, her husband demanded a dowry of 30,000 taka (£270). “After marriage he stayed for nine months with me and then he started saying, ‘You have to bring some money so I can start a business.’ So he beat me up and then he left.” Sharmin was four months pregnant when her husband abandoned her.

A view of the Duaripara slum, on the northern outskirts of Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital (Credit: Arshad Rod)

A view of the Duaripara slum, on the northern outskirts of Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital (Credit: Arshad Rod)

Bangladesh is a male-dominated society where unmarried young women are harassed just for walking down the street. Merely speaking to a boy can damage a girl’s reputation.

It also has one of the highest rates of child marriage, with 52% of girls married before the legal age of 18, according to a Unicef report in June 2015. One in five marry before their 15th birthday.

The consequences can be devastating. Girls who are married at a young age are more likely than their unmarried peers to experience domestic abuse and many girls report that their first sexual experience is forced. According
to a 2014 report by the Bangladesh bureau of statistics, 87% of married women experienced mental or physical abuse by their partner.

“It would be great if I were a boy. I wouldn’t have had to have been a mother; my husband wouldn’t have left me. If I were a boy I wouldn’t have had to marry so early. Boys can marry whenever they want, even in old age. Boys can do what they want.” Sharmin

It is not uncommon for these young brides to be left by their husbands. Financially, this leaves the girls in a difficult position unless they can find work to support themselves.

For the girls, the change in their marital status has resulted in more freedom. Their virginity had been highly prized and the pressure to marry was unavoidable. Now they have more choice. As Rogina explains: “You don’t get harassed as much. Before marriage, many boys harass you. It’s constant. A girl cannot go out alone at night. People would kidnap or rape her. People also spread rumours; if a girl talks to a boy, they say, ‘She will run away with that boy. She has no husband. She’s having an affair.’”

In 2014, the government committed to ending child marriage. At the Girl Summit, Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister, pledged to end marriage under the age of 15 by 2021 and of 18 by 2041.

Sources:

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/apr/22/bangladesh-married-at-14-abandoned-by-15-thMe-forgotten-girls-of-dhaka-child-marriage?CMP=share_btn_tw
http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/apr/22/bangladesh-married-at-14-abandoned-by-15-the-forgotten-girls-of-dhaka-child-marriage?CMP=share_btn_tw