Child marriage not only deprives a girl of the opportunity to be educated, it also deprives girls of their basic human rights. As a result of being married off at a young age, she is no longer ensured education, good health, nutrition or security. She can also be subject to domestic violence. She may be at risk of catching sexually transmitted diseases. When girls are married off at a young age, both her child’s and her life may be under threat. The newborn may also be underweight or suffer from lack of nutrition. (more…)
Hasina Banu began her life like any other girl born in Kashim Nagar, Monirampur in Jessore. She was married by the age of 14, and she had her first child at 16. This was the common fate of women in Hasina Banu’s village.
When she was 14, Jharna became a child bride. Today she is 22. She is a divorced mother of a seven-year-old daughter. She is also one of the 11,000 survivors of domestic violence and other human rights abuses who have received services from the USAID-funded Protecting Human Rights (PHR) Program over the past 4 years.
Jharna’s life is filled with these numbers but her identity is not defined by it. Her childhood began in a very different way. She was a girl, beloved daughter, a student busy with her studies in Class 6 at Rohita Union in Monirampur, Jessore. That is when her parents fixed her marriage with a boy from a neighboring village and changed the course of her life.
Within a few months of her marriage, her mother-in-law began to demand dowry from her father. The pressure started to increase more and more with each day. Supported by his family, her husband began to abuse her physically. Seeing all this, Jharna’s family collected money for his travel to Malaysia. But the situation got worse when he returned.
Within a week, Jharna’s husband held a knife to her throat threatening to kill her. It all happened because she protested against his abusive language toward their daughter. The beatings were aggravated by the instigation of her sister in-law. Eventually Jharna took her daughter and fled. She found refuge in her father’s home.
Life was much easier at home. This is where she grew up before her childhood was snatched away. At home, Jharna was surrounded by people who wanted to help but didn’t know how. One day, her mother went to a courtyard meeting organized by PHR. She spoke to PHR’s Social Worker who advised her on the next step to freedom for her daughter.
Jharna was taken to PHR’s Social Worker who gave her a shoulder to lean on. She now had someone who understood her needs and provided psychosocial counseling. She took her to PHR’s Legal Counselor who provided legal support. On the 18th of September 2014, with the assistance of the counselor, Jharna filed a formal complaint to the PHR Community Legal Counseling Center.
Over the course of the next three weeks, PHR’s Legal Counselor led three mediation sessions in the presence of all involved – Jharna, her husband and all respective family members. Without any wish for reconciliation, Jharna demanded divorce from her husband as per Muslim Family Law of Bangladesh. She was not scared anymore.
The mediations, a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) supported Jharna’s decision to get divorced. The ADR was instrumental in reducing the time it takes to reach a legal solution. Usually, it takes six months to more than two years to get a divorce. But with PHR’s assistance, in less than one month, Jharna’s case was resolved.
The mediation also allowed her to keep her daughter. Her ex-husband was asked to give full refund of dower settled during the time of marriage. The total cost of dower was 45,000 Taka but the ADR managed to collect three times of that amount, giving Jharna 1 Lakh, 35,000 Taka to rebuild her life. On the 2nd of October 2014, Jharna and her daughter were finally free.
Feeling empowered, Jharna started her new life. She bought land with the money PHR helped her receive through ADR. She enrolled in USAID’s Horticulture Project and received training on homestead gardening. Last year PHR integrated with the International Potato Center (CIP) – the implementing partner of the Horticulture Project funded by USAID – ensuring more livelihood support for survivors. Jharna was one of the 52 survivors of domestic violence who received this training. But she is no more a number. Now she is a survivor.
Jharna says she is happy. Her daughter is in Class 2. They spend time with family and harvest fresh vegetables in her garden. This small piece of land is the source to much comfort. It is her path to freedom.
“I have one plot that is full of vegetables, a piece of land that gave me 40kgs of rice this season. Now I am happy with my daughter, free from day-to-day suffering.” – Jharna
(Jharna has consented to the use of her real name)