Thirteen-year-old Salma is a bright and friendly girl who dreams of completing her studies and becoming self-reliant.
But Salma’s dream, like the dreams of many young girls in Bangladesh, is at risk.
Bangladesh is a place where gender inequality is deeply ingrained in cultural attitudes and practices.
Salma’s father believes he has the right—the duty, even—to arrange marriage for his young daughter. “It’s my decision to marry off my daughter, and there is no way to stop me,” he said.
Advocates for change suspect he has no knowledge of all the dangers of child marriage.
If Salma were to be married too soon, her dreams of education and independence would be shattered. Her health might also be compromised by pregnancies when her body is still so young.
Indeed, her father’s plan to arrange his young daughter’s marriage violates Bangladeshi law, which now prohibits early childhood marriage for these reasons. Even so, his mind was made up.
Thanks to a community becoming aware and empowered to speak out against injustice, this is not how Salma’s story ends.
One such voice belongs to Nurjahan Begum, a key leader in the fight against injustice in Salma’s community.
Nurjahan is a member of the Peace and Justice Committee (PJC) of PARI, one of World Renew’s partners. Both World Renew and PARI approach community development from the conviction that all people, male and female, are made in God’s image.
Members of the Peace and Justice Committee receive training on how to identify and stand against issues such as domestic violence and gender inequality.
Nurjahan heard about Salma’s planned child marriage from her own daughter, who attends school with Salma. Her concern quickly turned to action as she gathered members of the PJC to plead with Salma’s father to reconsider.
When it became clear that he would not listen to them, Nurjahan went to the local government.
In her meeting with the chairman of the Union Council, Nurjahan found an ally. The chairman went directly to Salma’s father to warn him not only that child marriage is illegal—a punishable offense—but also that he was putting his daughter in grave danger.
Salma’s father and the whole community listened. The early marriage was prevented, and Salma is thrilled to be entering seventh grade.
Salma is part of a changing story in her country and in her community. Because of stories like these, World Renew continues to form strong partnerships with faith-based organizations seeking to raise awareness and restore hope in areas where inequality and oppression exist.