Making Progress Toward a Bangladesh Free From Dowry and Early Marriage

These seed grants were funded by Johnson & Johnson and WomanCare Global via the Women Deliver C Exchange Youth Initiative.

By: SM Shaikat, SERAC-Bangladesh

It’s still a nightmare for many girls and women from poor families in Bangladesh to get married without a dowry. Many women whose families fail to comply with dowry demands experience mental and physical abuse – and even death – at the hands of their husbands or in-laws. It is my dream to stop these atrocities and transform Bangladesh into a dowry- and early marriage-free nation.

During my legal studies, I learned that dowries and child marriage are root causes of violence against women – and I immediately realized that I had to do something to put an end to these harmful practices. Armed with little more than determination, I launched awareness campaigns aimed at young people in Bangladesh. Before I knew it, a good number of young people joined the effort. Together we pressured law enforcement agencies, worked with media and advocated with stakeholders to generate attention around our cause.

With the support of Women Deliver’s C-Exchange Youth Initiative, I’ve launched a training program for 650 young and motivated volunteers in the 13 sub-districts of Mymensingh. During trainings we educate our young volunteers about the laws and policies in place to prevent dowries and child marriage. We also identify system-wide gaps that our volunteers can help fill, such as holding authorities accountable for enforcing dowry and early marriage laws. The groups act as community “watchdogs” and help identify and report dowry and early marriage cases to local law enforcing authorities.

Our program is called Jagoroni, a Bengali word that means “rising” and represents the rise of the youth movement against dowry and early marriage. Jagoroni is not only about raising awareness to stop dowries and early marriage in Bangaldesh – it's also about providing a unique platform for youth leadership on girls’ and women’s rights. Among the volunteers, we refer to each sub-district as a “jagori”, and each “jagori” has one elected leader nominated by its peers.

As members of the community, each “jagori” has a unique ability to put pressure on authorities and garner attention around dowry and early marriage prevention locally. In fact, we’ll see the “jagoris” at work in coming months as they launch their own advocacy campaigns to mobilize new community members and encourage them to join the fight to end dowries and child marriage. I have no doubt that this youth-run program will help make dowry and early marriage history for Mymensingh. And, if we are successful, there is no reason why we can’t make this dream a reality in all 64 districts of Bangladesh.

Entry Comments

  1. The adolescent rural girls in the rural community fall in the trap of early marriage, sexual abuse, pregnancy and abortion, female genital cutting and mutilation, and so, adolescents’ needs for reproductive health information and services.

    A baby is born. Is it wanted? Who is its mother? Is she married? Does she have a partner or family able to provide support to her and her infant? How old is the mother? Is she educated? Literate? Is she prepared emotionally and otherwise mature enough to give the child the care and foundation it needs for a good start in life in an increasingly complex religious , superstition and high poverty based Bangladeshi rural community?

    The circumstances into which a child is born determine to a great extent not only whether it survives but the entire course of its life. The reproductive choices of women significantly affect both their life prospects and those of their children. The age of the mother, the spacing of births, and care during pregnancy and delivery are important determinants of infant survival and progress through childhood.

    The impact of reproductive health on the newborn is immediate and can be dramatic. Children born to adolescent mothers are usually at a disadvantage, given the mother’s physical and emotional immaturity and the fact that having a child usually puts a stop to her schooling. The risks are especially great for the child if its mother is a young teen (12-16), if she is unmarried, if she is poor, or if the child is unwanted. The burden of being born to an adolescent mother is greatest when all of these conditions prevail.

    About half of all deaths among children under age five occur in their first month of life. In developing country like Bangladesh, an infant’s risk of death during the first year is 30 per cent greater if born to a young mother than to an adult woman. 6 Even if they survive, infants born to adolescent mothers are more likely to be premature and low birth-weight. Such survival risks are far greater in the rural areas of Bangladesh, given conditions of poverty, poor nutrition , faulty religious beliefs, superstitions and poor availability of medical care.

    Infants born to adolescent mothers are also at risk due to adverse socioeconomic conditions that are typically more severe when the mother is a teen. Adolescent mothers are generally less able to provide the compensatory care for a pre-mature or low birth-weight infant. In poor families, other adults are less likely to be available or able to provide the needed support. In rural areas where Aid Organization (AO) works, more than 50% mothers are background of being adolescent during marriage.

    Unfortunately, maternal mortality remains all too common in Bangladesh. This is learnt equivalent to about 1 in 50 women dying in a least developed country like Bangladesh from complications of pregnancy and unsafe abortion, about 35 times more than in developed countries.

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