14-year-old defies marriage, exceeds father’s expectations

The Express Tribune —

BANGLADESH: The entire village gathered at Based Ali’s house to celebrate something he never wanted, something he had struggled to admit for many years.

“Parents generally help their kids study,” he said. “But I pressured my daughter instead to marry when she was 14. I pressured her to spend time on household chores instead of school.”

Two years on, when the results of the secondary school certificate examination were published, Based Ali wept. His 16-year-old daughter, Shwapna, had earned a perfect score and passed with the highest marks.

“It was only Shwapna’s devotion to learning and her continuous inspiration and support from Room to Read that helped to bring us all to this unbelievable day. I am grateful!” he added.

In Bangladesh’s Pratapdighi Village where Shwapna lives, it is common for parents to arrange their daughters’ marriages after 8th grade. Ali had arranged for Shwapna to be married to a local shopkeeper, just as he had arranged for her older sister to be married at age 15.

Shwapna did not want this same fate so she refused her parents’ demand, but they continued to pressure her. As punishment for going against their wishes, Shwapna was given more housework and family chores, including running her father’s grocery store.

As determined as she was, the increased housework started to impact her education after which Shwapna approached a friend and her mother for help and advice.

“I went to my friend, Shymoli, and her mother asking for their suggestions. Shymoli’s mother insisted I stand against this decision,” explained Shwapna.

“I had also heard about Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program and that they might be able to help. I searched out the social mobiliser at our school, explained my problem and asked her to speak with my father,” she said.

After agreeing to visit her father, the social mobiliser explained to Ali the long-term consequences of early marriages and the value of education. It didn’t stop there. It took several sessions for Shwapna’s father to agree to support her decision to continue her education and reduced her chores to enable her to do so.

“When I realised that I had successfully prevented the marriage, it gave me confidence to know that I am quite capable of overcoming any obstacle in my life, now and in the future.” Shwapna said.

Eager to gain access to higher secondary school and eventually attend university, Shwapna had set her sights on passing the Secondary School Certificate Exam.

Room to Read offered continued support through tutoring and life skills training, which included workshops on preparing for exams, stress management and planning for her future.

“My dream is to enter the highest level of education in Bangladesh,” Shwapna said, adding that “Thanks to Room to Read, I have the courage to go after my dreams!”

Origional Post here:  http://tribune.com.pk/story/821105/14-year-old-defies-marriage-exceeds-fathers-expectations/

This story was originally published by Room to Read

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