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Khaleda puts a stop to early marriage in her community

© Amin/Drik/2009/UNICEF Bangladesh
Khaleda Begum (17) was trained by UNICEF and supports peer educator and adolescent leader to convey social messages to other adolescents and the community.
By Casey McCarthy

RANGPUR, Bangladesh, 19 April 2009: Khaleda Begum, 17, is not like most other teenagers in Bangladesh. Although she too is busy with her studies, Khaleda is a force for change in her community. A few months ago Khaleda stopped the marriage of a 13 year old girl.

Khaleda is a peer leader with the UNICEF-supported Adolescent Empowerment (Kishori Abhijan) project in Rangpur. As a peer leader, Khaleda takes a lot of initiatives and responsibilities to build the knowledge of other young people and to raise awareness within their communities around key issues, especially those related to adolescents, such as early marriage, HIV/AIDS, dowry and gender.

Educating others
When CMES (Centre for Mass Education in Science), the NGO working with UNICEF to implement the project in Rangpur, came to Khaleda’s village and identified her as a possible participant, they initially approached her parents. That was two years ago.

After six months, Khaleda was chosen by the other adolescents at the centre to represent them as a peer leader. In this role, she supports 30 young members and works within her community to register the birth of newborns, petitioning to repair roads, holding community meetings, coordinating rallies, correcting misinformation or confusion, and raising awareness of child and women’s rights.

“Before I was involved with the project, my parents didn’t listen to my voice. Now, they respect my decisions and opinions. Before I was a child; now I am an adult,” she said.

“My parents are very supportive. My mother goes to all the meetings and my father helps with make posters for rallies.”

An agent of change
When Khaleda heard about the arranged marriage of 13 year old Sharifa from other members at the adolescent centre, she was compelled to stop it.

Khaleda visited Sharifa’s parents and explained the laws surrounding early marriage and child rights but they refused to cancel the wedding. Khaleda sought help from the local support group, NGOs staff and another child rights group.

The project involves parents and community leaders to support adolescents in their role, through the formation of local support groups. Specific meetings are arranged for mothers and fathers and also for local leaders and influential people.

Together, with the threat of police intervention, they were able to stop the marriage. Khaleda and other peer leaders have vowed to ensure all early marriages are prevented in their community in the future.

“I feel very good about helping Sharifa. She is a very intelligent girl. Now she can have a bright future,” Khaleda said.

Sharifa now attends the adolescent meetings with her mother where they are both learning about child and women’s rights.

Learning the skills to teach others
As a peer leader Khaleda received training on specific issues, but also gained life skills such as critical thinking, negotiation, communication and decision-making. She was also trained to facilitate discussions on these topics.

“I’ve learnt so many things – life skills, HIV/AIDS, drugs, trafficking, birth registration, marriage registration, harassment, gender issues and reproductive health.

“For example, I know that there are two clauses on marriage registration forms that allow women to request a divorce if their husband abuses them. I also know that girls and women need more protein in their diet during menstruation. These are things that women in my community did not know before.”

“Without my work at the adolescent centre I would never have come to think this way, or to do these things,” Khaleda said. 

Like Khaleda, there are now over 3100 adolescents peer leaders involved in the adolescent project while a total of 66,000 adolescents participate the Adolescent Empowerment project, implemented with European Union funding. These adolescents become agents of change by encouraging conversations within their communities, breaking cultural taboos.







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