|One of Basanti's Girl Power Groups|
“As a neighbor, I saw the wedding related activities and got suspicious,” says Rojina, a 16-year-old from a village in Basanti. She knew Ajmira from school and was concerned when she saw the planning going on at her home.
Ajmira confirmed her suspicions when they met in school. “My parents are forcing me to get married,” Ajmira told Rojina. Ajmira is only fourteen. This plunged Rojina into sadness. What was she to do? “Before World Vision, I did not know child marriage was wrong. But now I know, and I found out my neighbor was getting married,” says Rojina.
Rojina decided to confide in her best friend Regina, 17. Both girls are part of World Vision’s Girl Power group, which teaches girls to keep themselves and their friends safe. Regina says, “If we go directly, they won’t listen to us and they will scold us. They might even take their daughter somewhere and get her married in secret. Being a child and we are girls...will they listen to us?” This way of thinking percolates from the elders in the community to the children. A girl child is low in the “pecking order” - girls are rarely allowed to express their own thoughts or feelings, and they are not taught to speak with confidence in public settings. These cultural pressures create an environment where girls fear telling the truth or seeking help from adults. They feel helpless when they, or their friends, experience abuse through child marriage, rape or physical violence.
In this context, the term Girl Power is almost an oxymoron. But Regina and Rojina were not going to be silent. Rojina says, “This is not good. What is going to happen to Ajmira? If she has a baby, she will not survive.” Regina adds, “My mind was thinking, somehow I must stop this marriage. Many guests were coming, and they were discussing many things. Finally, they invited my own family to participate.” The urgency set in. They had to do something now and fast - Ajmira’s life was at stake.
Rojina and Regina have been friends since kindergarten and have became even closer after they joined the Girl Power group. “How to keep myself safe? And keep my friends safe? I came to know how the traffickers play tricks. We are able to identify them now,” says Rojina. Rojina has changed as a person after attending the Girls Power learning sessions. “I am able to deal with peer pressure. Before World Vision, I used to do everything my friends say. But, now I am able to say no. And no means no.”
|Rojina & Regina|
The girls hatched a plan to go to World Vision. “It is better if we take World Vision’s volunteer and go together,” says Rojina. Together, the girls informed World Vision’s Girl Power volunteer, Mahmuda Jamadhar, a local community member whom World Vision had trained to form and nurture the Girl Power group. She taught these girls many lessons on life skills, the physical changes their bodies undergo during adolescence, and how to use the helpline to report cases of abuse and trafficking.
Mahmuda took Regina and Rojina and they went to see the parents of Ajmira. Initially the parents of Ajmira were a little hostile. Perhaps they felt offended at being asked to consider the concerns of two young girls from the community. But, they softened as they continued to listen. And they changed their mind when Mahmuda reminded them about various TV news program on child marriage and how the police usually arrive in time to stop such marriages. “They remembered this incident from the TV news program and they said they will stop the wedding,” says Mahmuda.
The girls and Mahmuda did not have to call the child helpline or the police. Regina and Rojina were very happy and excited when the wedding preparations halted. Ajmira is now continuing in school with her friends. “I feel very happy. I feel I have done something great,” says Regina. Rojina adds, “I feel proud that I have a platform to help myself and others. We don’t want any child marriages here.”