Arzina Begum – Abolishing Child Marriage
Honorable guests and friends, good morning. I am excited, very excited, to be here. I come from a long way from the northern part of Bangladesh, thousands of miles away, from Bangladesh Life is so different. I come from a green little place. You never hear the horns of the cars. You only hear the birds singing. We are lagging behind in most areas like education. Many children in my village have to walk three kilometers to go to school, if they even get a chance for education. Most girls are enrolled in the school but many of them drop out in their early teens. Young women going to school or college is still rare and attracts attention and harassment. Parents also fall to the social stigma of marrying off their daughters of 15 to 18 years. So very often it is a struggle for a young woman to carry on with her studies. She needs to fight with her family, with her neighbors, with her relatives, and with the communities. Not many girls survive this struggle. Very few do. I am one of those lucky few, and that’s why I come here. In fact, I could have had the same fate that thousands of girls in my country face. There one in three girls marry before they are 15 years. When I was 14, my parents wanted to marry me, but I refused because I was afraid and I continued my education. I am sponsored by PLAN and I was a member of a child organization, and the name of my child organization is the Sunflower Organization. So when my parents wanted to marry me, then I communicated with my child group and village leader. I communicated and told them, “Save me.” PLAN helped save me from child marriage. The village leaders and child group saved me from child marriage. They convinced my parents to stop my marriage. My parents go to my marriage because it is a tradition in Bangladesh. They think that once their daughter gets married, then there is one less person to feed. So my parents wanted to marry me, but I refused, because I continue my education. Then the village leaders and child organization came to our house and convinced my parents. At my least parents were convinced and stopped my marriage with a condition: If I give good results and hard work in my education and I give them a grateful result. I am the first girl in my village and in my family to go to university. My sister got married when she was 15. She lost her first child and her other child is sick. But today, my sister and my family look up to me, and they are helpful and support me to continue my education. So I continued at the university of Nilphamari and my subject is Islamic history and culture. I know many girls in my community look up to me and want to follow me. I am trying to help them whenever I have time. I talk to them, I talk to the community leaders, and the other opinion leaders. I have explained to them about the bad consequences of child marriage. I have myself stopped three girls from being married. Things are changing and people today are getting aware about the negative consequences of child marriage. The local government has now declared my village a child marriage-free zone. But a lot more needs to be done. There are thousands more girls that need to be saved from the curse of child marriage. And that’s why I seek your support. We need to increase girls’ access to education and we need to make secondary education free. Please, help my sisters who face child marriage and give them the opportunity to study, so that there are many more Arzinas, like me–strong, confident girls who dare to follow their dreams. Thank you everybody.