The loss of childhood

by Allison Joyce

13 year old Runa Akhter is seen the day of her wedding to a 29 year old man August 29, 2014 in Manikganj, Bangladesh. Runa was in the 7th grade, and loved reading, sports and traveling. She wanted to wait until she was 21 to get married but, "No boy want's to marry a girl older than 18 in my village" she said. In June of this year, Human Rights Watch released a damning report about child marriage in Bangladesh. The country has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, with 29% of girls marrying before the age of 15, and 65% of girls marrying before they turn 18. The detrimental effects of early marriage on a girl cannot be overstated. Most young brides drop out of school. Pregnant girls from 15-20 are twice as likely to die in childbirth than those 20 or older, while girls under 15 are at five times the risk. Research cites spousal age difference as a significant risk factor for violence and sexual abuse. Child marriage is attributed to both cultural tradition and poverty. Parents believe that it "protects" girls from sexual assault and harassment. Larger  dowries are not required for young girls, and economically, women's earnings are insignificant as compared to men's.

Most Bangladeshi girls are forced to marry before they turn 18

Runa Akhter was only 13 when her parents forced her to marry a man more than twice her age.

Until then, Runa had dreamt of working as a receptionist. She was in 7th grade, loved reading and sports, and she wanted to wait until she was 21 to get married.

But her parents had other plans.

I told her husband to wear condoms until she’s a bit older

Her mother, who helped arrange Runa’s marriage to Zahrul Haque Kajal, 29, believed that it would be harder to marry off Runa when she got older, and that people would ask too many questions if she stayed unmarried.

Runa’s marriage would protect her, her mother said.

“I told her husband to wear condoms until she’s a bit older.”

Rape and sexual harassment are serious problems in Bangladesh, and child marriage is viewed both as a tradition and a way to protect young girls. Since they won’t go to school after their marriage, it reduces the risk of being harassed (or worse) during their commute.

Bangladesh has the fourth-highest rate of child marriage worldwide after Niger, the Central African Republic and Chad. Almost a third of the country’s girls marry before they turn 15, and almost two-thirds marry before their 18th birthday, even though the minimum legal age of marriage in Bangladesh is 18 for women and 21 for men.

The consequences of getting married early are dramatic. Most girls drop out of school, and if they get pregnant before they turn 15, they are five times more likely to die in childbirth than those 20 or older.

Runa takes a bath on the morning of her wedding.

I spent two days with Runa, during the ceremony before hand and on her wedding day.

She seemed to switch between the light moods of a 13-year-old girl, playing with her friends and her sister, to sudden dark clouds of sadness. She would abruptly withdraw as if remembering that her childhood would soon be gone and that she was about to become a wife with adult responsibilities.

Runa has her makeup done by her friends for the wedding.

29 year old Zahrul Haque Kajal arrives to his wedding.

Runa cries as she is led to her new husband.

It was troubling to bear witness to — especially when I thought of my own long, happy childhood.

To watch this girl have her life, her potential and her future ripped away from her was as heartbreaking as it was infuriating.

 Source: Mashable

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *