Aisha (not her real name) was just 15 years old when her parents came to her with the news that they had arranged for her to be married.
They saw this opportunity as a blessing. They were already struggling with poverty; if Aisha were to marry they would no longer have the financial burden of providing for her. Aisha lives in Bangladesh, which has some of the highest rates of marriage for girls under 15 in the world.
The situation Aisha faced is not uncommon. In many poor communities, girls marry before the age of 14—often against their will.
Illiterate teenage girls who live in poor communities are especially vulnerable. People are not always aware that early marriage is violation of human rights that can harm a young girl’s development for the rest of her life. Girls who marry young are less likely to continue their education or find paid employment. If they become pregnant, their young age can place them at increased health risks that make them more susceptible to illness and more likely to die young.
Aisha’s family belongs to the Dom caste, a Hindu caste group that is considered low. People in this caste face many social restrictions. Women and girls in the Dom group are even more socially restricted than men, which makes them especially vulnerable to early marriage and other human rights violations.
Fortunately, by the time Aisha’s parents came to her about the marriage, she had already started to be educated about her rights. Through World Renew's local partner, SATHI, she had joined a community group where she learned about issues related to child rights, child abuse, and child labor. Trained peer educators helped her understand that she did not have to give in to social and family pressure to marry.
In order to protect herself from a future she did not want, Aisha decided to stand up to her parents and tell them she had a right to refuse the marriage. At first, Aisha's parents did not listen to her, but she was determined to speak up for herself. She asked the leaders of her peer group for assistance, and they went with her to talk to her parents. Eventually they came to understand that their daughter had a legal right to refuse marriage, and they accepted her choice.
Today, Aisha is a joyful girl with great hopes for the future. Recently she has received a Secondary School Certificate, and she has plans to be a nurse. She also has greater harmony and respect in her family relationships. Her mother and sister have joined her community group and are learning how to protect the rights of children.
“Now my mother listens to me and understands me. I love my family,” said Aisha.
Through World Renew programs, this young girl has become an influential leader in her community. She is speaking up against injustice, teaching teenaged girls about their rights, and helping more of God’s children recognize that they deserve to be treated with respect and love.