Despite signs of progress, Bangladesh continues to have one of the highest child marriage rates in the world.66% of girls in Bangladesh are married under 18 with the average age of marriage for girls in the country being 15. As well as deeply embedded cultural beliefs, poverty, is also a driving factor for child marriage, with parents’ seeking to obtain economic and social security for their daughter. Dowry also continues to be a driving factor, with prices often increasing the older a girl gets.
Ruhana M. was 10 when she was sent to live in Dhaka with her stepsister who works at a garment factory. Ruhana was told that she would be cared for and sent to school, however upon arrival she was forced to cook and clean in the home. When Ruhana began menstruating at age 12, her stepsister forced her to marry a man she did not know. Ruhana now has a six-year-old daughter. She does day labor as a road worker to pay for her daughter to go to school.
Because there are four brothers and three sisters in my family including me and we are very close in age, our parents couldn’t feed us. … She [Ruhana’s stepsister] took me and said, ‘I will feed her and send her to school’.
My [step] sister worked and I stayed home and worked in the home.
Whether it’s a sister or anyone else, would anyone take care of someone for free? I cooked and cleaned and fixed clothes.
At first my parents didn’t agree [to the marriage], but then they thought they couldn’t feed me, so they agreed
I will not be the way my parents were. I have one child and I only want one child so I can provide for her and I will work hard and take care of her. I work to make sure she goes to school. It’s not good to get anyone married very young— I won’t make the same mistake with my daughter.
My uncle said, ‘Don’t get her married now—I will bring the police if you do'. But my older brother said, ‘Don’t bring the police. Now she is pretty and young and we can give her away for free. If you bring the police we will have more problems when she gets older.
When my husband used to come to stay with me [have sex] I wouldn’t know how to stay with him. I would lose consciousness and my teeth would clench and they would throw water on me. I would go out from my husband’s room to sleep with my sister and she would explain to me and then take me back to my husband’s room.
As told to researchers for Human Rights Watch