16-Year-Old Bangladeshi Girl Works With World Vision to End Child Marriage

Ahead of International Women's Day on Friday, Christian relief organization World Vision hosted Humaiya Akhter, a 16-year-old girl from Bangladesh, at a United Nations event in New York City addressing child marriage.

Akhter, who hails from the village of Tajpur, located in the Joypurat district of Bangladesh, has become an outspoken advocate against child marriage, as her native country sees 66 percent of females married before they turn 18.

Akhter spoke with The Christian Post regarding her fight to end child marriage while attending the United Nations event for the World Vision report "Untying the Knot: Preventing Violence Against Girls by Ending Early Marriage."

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"Advocating [against] child marriage on an international level is important to me because the rate of child marriage is at 66 percent in our country. We want to reduce the rate, but we need international help to do so," Akhter, who has already helped three young women in her town escape from child marriage this year, stated.

The young advocate went on to tell CP about the difficulty she and others have faced when attempting to stop a child marriage from taking place.

"We went to the girls' houses to tell their parents that they should not have their daughters marry early. We tried to tell them the consequences of child marriage. It took a long time to explain to them the consequences," the teen said.

Although Akhter acknowledges that child marriage is difficult to eradicate entirely, she maintains that advocacy, education, literacy, knowledge of the English language, and a revamped local judicial system are the most effective ways to reduce the rate of child marriage.

"Nowadays, many of the people in our country are concerned about child marriage. It's difficult to reduce, because it's a tradition, but also many see the consequences of it," she said.

Ultimately, Akhter believes that a collaborative effort on behalf of local society, the Bangladesh government, and the United Nations would help save dozens more girls from child marriage every year.

In Bangladesh, the legal age of marriage for a female is 18, while for a male it is 21, and therefore Akhter argues that this law must be effectively implemented in the country to end child marriage.

According to World Vision's recent research report, Untying the Knot: Preventing Violence Against Girls by Ending Early Marriage, there are 13.5 million girls under the age of 18 around the world who are forced into marriage every year.

As the report indicates, child marriage rates increase in times of societal instability, which can be caused by displacement, natural disasters, or civil and political conflict.

As the report describes, families seek to marry their daughters soon for an array of reasons, whether it be to safeguard her virginity, or because cultural norms suggest that an older, unmarried woman is less desirable than a younger, unmarried girl.

Countries experiencing drought and famine, such as Niger and Bangladesh, have some of the highest child marriage rates in the world, with over half of its female population married before age 18.

As the World Vision report indicates, the issue is not necessarily with a lack of laws, as the majority of countries have anti-child marriage legislation.

The issue, however, is with the implementation of this legislation, which is oftentimes overlooked when a country is in a fragile, instable state.

"Almost every country in the world has domestic legislation in place to prevent early marriage and has signed or ratified a range of international conventions condemning the practice," the report reads.

"Legislation is rarely enforced in fragile states, however, and has proven ineffective in relation to early marriage. Parents and communities prefer to follow customary practices that carry shame if defied."

As the World Vision report concludes, the ultimate goal is for influential governments, including the United Kingdom and the United States, to become more globally involved in the implementation of anti-child marriage legislation.

In addition to this report, this week also marks the release of the film, "Girl Rising," which describes inspirational stories of young girls around the world struggling with real life issues to achieve their goals.

The film was created by the 10x10 campaign, which advocates the improvement of education for females around the world.

World Vision International, a close partner to the 10x10 campaign, is a Christian relief organization that works to absolve poverty and enhance education throughout the world.

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