Parul is a 31-year-old mother of three in Patuakhali, Bangladesh. The statistic itself doesn’t sound too shocking until you learn that her eldest child is 18 years old, meaning Parul became a mother at 13 after she was married at 12.
Child marriage is not uncommon in Bangladesh. In fact, 64% of all women aged 20-24 were married before the age of 18, according to Plan International.
After being a young child bride herself, Parul is working to make sure girls like her two daughters stay in school through graduation before getting married.
But Parul doesn’t want that to happen to her daughters. Her oldest daughter, Razia (18) is about to graduate from high school and is not married. Though the trend against child marriage is increasing, three of Razia’s close friends have already married; one was married at 17 years of age and two were married at 16.
Parul says it has not been difficult for her to keep her daughter out of a child marriage because she has become so against it. Though her daughter has had several suitors, Parul just says no.
“There is such great hardship with child marriage,” Parul said. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but I do now.”
She credits Food for the Hungry (FH) with a major part of this realization.
“An FH community worker taught against child marriage in a savings group,” Parul said. “Child marriage does not allow a girl to be self-sufficient. If she can get a job and learn to be independent, she can gain an identity. If she gets married young, she will have to stay home and take care of her husband and her house.”
A large key to FH’s teaching against child marriage focuses on the importance of education. Parul even attempted to regain an education when her daughter was in grade 5, since Parul was forced to drop out of school when she got married. However, it was too difficult for her to go to school with all of her familial responsibilities.
Razia wants to be a nurse and that dream has kept her in school and out of an early childhood marriage.
“Girls need to go to school before they get married,” Parul said. “Education is very important.”
Now, her daughter Razia wants to become a nurse.
“They do not have a health worker in my community and people have to go into the city if they need medical help,” Razia said. “There is a great need here and I would like to meet it.”
Nursing is not a popular field in Bangladesh. However, Razia cares more about benefiting her community. It is this dream that has kept her in school.
Razia tries to help her 13-year-old sister by encouraging her to focus on getting an education too.
“I ask her what her dream is,” Razia said. “She says she wants to be a journalist. Then I ask her to focus on her dream so that she can achieve it.”
Razia knows that if her sister can focus her attention on achieving her dreams, she will be less tempted to get married young.
Razia (left) with her mother, Parul outside of their home in Patuakhali, Bangladesh.
“I want my friends to stand on their feet first before getting married,” Razia said.
Razia has proven to be a great success story from FH’s values training.
“I tell my daughter that life will be hard, but if you are educated and independent, you can get through,” Parul said.
Find out how to help more women like Parul and Razia here.