The teen with the red line down her forehead is married in a Hindu community in Bangladesh.
What do teenagers (ages 13 to 18) living in the United States have in common with teenagers in the developing world? Hunger.
While a Bangladeshi teenager, age 13, feels the hunger of being loved by her older husband, an American teen wonders if she is thin enough to be considered pretty. As our daughters contemplate if they are pretty enough, girls in Afghanistan are burning themselves with acid to make themselves an unlikely choice for a mate.
What do these girls have in common? They are hungry for love and freedom.
If you think poverty means only a lack of food, clean water or education – you might expand that definition to include love. The poverty of love is the most painful poverty of all.
Discovering adolescent development
Two weeks ago, I started a class on adolescent development. Since I married at age 18, I didn’t have the opportunity to pursue a higher education until later in life.
Now that both my children are grown, I have gone back to school to complete my formal education. College is very interesting when you have life experiences to apply to classroom lessons.
As my children journeyed through adolescence, I wondered out loud (or sometimes in my head), “What do you have to complain about? You have everything you could ever want.”
But, adolescence is an awkward time. Girls wonder if they are thin enough, pretty enough and smart enough (but not too smart). Boys wonder if they have what it takes; do they measure up to the other guys. At the root of both questions is: “Do I have value? Am I loveable? Am I worth it?”
Hungry for love
Half way around the world in Bangladesh – a young girl cries, because it’s her wedding day. She cries because she is leaving her father’s house. It’s been a place where she felt somewhat safe and protected. Now that she’s 13, her father can no longer protect her.
Her child body is changing. If she isn’t married soon, she could be raped. A raped girl in the developing world is the equivalent to a lame cow that can’t be sold. A raped girl is believed to be a liability, not a valued treasure.
In order to protect her now, her father pays a less expensive dowry because she is young. She will be married early, because her family is poor and can’t afford to wait. Will her husband love her? Will he protect her? Will he tell her she has value, and she’s worth loving?
Passionate about sponsoring children
Bangladesh ranks third in the world for child marriage. That’s why I sponsor a girl in Bangladesh named Rhaki. My sponsorship gives her family the encouragement they need to make choices to keep her and her sisters in school.
It gives them a better chance at a higher education. Perhaps, she will make it past the age of 13 without being married. That is my hope. That’s what I hold on to. That’s why I will continue to sponsor as long as I can.