Janoki Karmoker age 17 and Manoti Karmokar age 14 are two sisters living with their parents in the Habibnagar Tea Garden, in Sylhet, where both of their parents work in a tea garden. Janoki dropped out of primary school and Manoti studies in class 7. Their parents have considered that it is their responsibility to marry off the girls at a young age, as this will take off financial pressure from the family. Therefore, last February their parents, Pabitra and Binti Karmoker, fixed their marriage in the same family.
Janoki's friend Sanchita is a member of the Beli Adolescent Club. When Sanchita learned about the marriage of the two sisters, she immediately informed other club members. The club members had received Child Rights Perspective and Life Skill Based Education training from the club; they knew how badly child marriage can impact the lives of young girls and the society. So, the adolescent members of the Beli club called an emergency meeting and decided to meet with Janoki and Manoti’s parents. With the lead of two Peer Leaders, the club members went to Janoki’s house and tried to convince their parents to call off the wedding. They explained the harmful effects of early marriage on girls and also the law and punishment related to child marriage. But the parents did not pay any attention to them and turned them down as they are young. Later adolescent club members communicated with the Community Based Child Protection Committee (CBCPC) of Habibnagar and informed them about the marriage. The CBCPC members along with Ponchayet members went to Janoki and Manoti’s house. But they also failed to convince their parents. For Pabitra and Binti Karmoker this is a good proposal for their daughters, they did not want to miss the opportunity.
Since adolescent club members were unable to persuade the parents and prevent the early marriages, they decided to take help from the Upazila administration. Peer Leader Mahmuda called Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) of Jaintapur and shared the context. UNOMs. Maureen Karim appreciated the effort of the adolescent club and thanked them for calling her. She immediately called the Manager of Habibnagar Tea Garden, Mr. Efzal Hossain Chowdhury, and requested to take the steps needed for preventing early marriages. Garden Management representatives went to Janoki and Manoti’s house and convinced their parents to call off the wedding. At last, they realized their mistake and agreed not to marry off their daughters until they are 18.
Adolescent club members played a major role in preventing child marriage; their courageous actions saved two young girls from the harmful practice of early marriage.
A recent study of MJF has found that at least 13,886 child marriages took place in 21 districts of the country during the Covid-19 Pandemic. The actual situation must be far worse since the study could not cover the entire country and was conducted only in 84 Upazilas of the 21 districts. What is most alarming is that, in about 78 percent of the cases of child marriages, the people involved said they were aware of the legal age of marriage and recognized that child marriage was illegal.
Under the UN joint intervention for tea garden workers and their family members, UNICEF is mobilizing ‘Adolescents’ clubs’ in the 25 tea gardens. Each club consists of 25-30 adolescent members from their respective ward or tea garden. Adolescent club members received trainings on life skills, safe internet use, child rights and child development and sports for development. These trainings aim to enhance their knowledge and skills which helped them to perform as agents of change to prevent child marriages.
About the programme:
‘Enhancing social protection for female tea garden workers and their family members is a joint programme of ILO, UNICEF, UNFPA, UN Women. The joint programme is funded by the Joint SDG Fund and coordinated by the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office in Bangladesh. Through this intervention in Sylhet division, female tea garden workers, their family members will be more empowered to claim their rights to avail the social procreation services. Besides creating opportunities for female workers in the decision-making process of the trade union, this joint initiative will contribute to ensuring a decent work environment, maternal health care, and child education-health-nutrition.