Adolescents helping change negative social norms
By Munima Sultana
Cox’s Bazar, 14 March 2013: Parveen Akhter, an independent 17-year-old, is extremely bright and speaks up against injustice wherever she sees it. But she wasn’t always this way. She used to be a shy, traditional girl who accepted the way things were.
A few years ago, Parveen’s father wanted her to get married. He was a fish seller and with his meager earnings felt unable to support Parveen and her two younger siblings. So, he decided to marry her off.
But Parveen refused to give into her fate. She managed to convince her father to continue her education regardless of their financial situation by taking a prompt and intelligent decision not to give in to early marriage. Now, she is a student of a college close to her home near Cox's Bazar town, a major tourism hub of Bangladesh.
Collectively combating social vices“Only a year ago, my studies were about to be stopped. My parents had arranged marriage for me like my elder sister when I was just promoted to Class X. Knowing that my marriage was imminent, I resisted it and sought help of my friends who are the members of Adolescent Club that we all run,” says Parveen.
As she had a leadership training to be Adolescent Leader of the Club, Parveen was aware of the harmful impacts of early marriage. She also understood how important it was for a girl to continue her education. All her club buddies then decided to come forward to talk with Parveen’s family to stop the marriage from taking place.
After her bid for marriage was foiled, Parveen also received a stipend of Tk 20,000 (USD 253) from BRAC under the UNICEF-supported adolescent development programme and supported her family by farming fishes in a pond behind her home. She also receives Tk 250 (USD 3) per month being the Adolescent Leader of the club.
Parveen says that the Club which was set up in her locality with the help of BRAC supported by UNICEF -- a leading non-government organisation -- made her efforts easier.
Mobilising youth powerThe Adolescent Clubs, under its Adolescent Boys and Girls Development Programme, have been in existence in Cox’s Bazar district since 2005. It developed 177 clubs with UNICEF support in Cox’s Bazar district through mobilising young boys and girls.
Sondha Rani Biswas, Area Manager of BRAC, says with these clubs, more than 25 child marriage attempts were foiled as the members went from house to house to convince people whenever they came to know about such cases.
She says the Adolescent Clubs give the young boys and girls an opportunity to have fun in a healthy environment and learn various social and life skills issues. These young people also visit door-to-door to talk with people on other adolescent problems like abuse, drug addiction, child or human trafficking and so on.
Parveen leads the Adolescent Club of her area of Khurushkul of Kuliapara twice a week on Wednesdays and Thursdays, gathering 30 young boys and girls of her locality. Twenty five per cent of the members are boys. It also has some members with various forms of disabilities.
Enjoying lifeThe clubs, however, are not just a space of learning and discussion. One of the main reasons for their success is that the clubs also provide a much-needed recreational space where young girls and boys can hang out. The members of Parveen’s club say they have fun and play games at the club. There is a range of sports equipment and board games. They also entertain each other with singing, dancing and drama. The club has a small library and members are encouraged to build up a habit for reading.
According to Parveen, before the club was established, she and her friends had nowhere to go. They spent their time in idle gossip, or lazing about at home. She believes that the club has made a big difference to her life and that of her friends. She says, “This club is a space where we can spend quality time with friends. One day we play games the next day we have discussions on specific topics. During one of the club’s discussions, we learnt about the benefits of registering our births. So then everyone at the club completed their birth registration form. This has been very useful for us.”
However, initially it was not easy for Parveen and her friends to join the club. She says, due to misconception, many parents did not allow their young children to be in the club, “We talked with our parents and then invited our guardians to see for themselves the club activities. Once they witnessed the activities of the club, they no longer had any objection,” Parveen explains.
Sondha Rani says that discussion of Adolescent Club always focused on the issues like dowry, sexually transmitted diseases, adolescent problems, child labour, hygiene, which are common in all localities and these led the guardians to understand that it does not do any harm to their children.
Senuara Akter who has physical disability from birth, says she has been involved with the club for last two months and enjoys participating in club activities.
“I come here to read books and take those at home. I feel good to be here as I can share many things with other friends,” Senuara says.