IamBRAC: Putting the law to work in remote Bangladesh

April 5, 2018
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In a world that can sometimes feel like it was made purely for men, the mother of two’s work has earned her the title of a ‘Joyeeta’, the national platform that recognises women from all backgrounds for dedication towards social progress.

“What is the minimum age that your daughter can get married at?”

“18!” A group echoes in unison.

“If you marry off your daughter even a day before, what will it be?”

“Child marriage.” The group answers.

“Do we support child marriage?”

“No!”

“Say it out loud. We do not support child marriage,” Sufia Begum tells the group.

A manager in the human rights and legal services programme in Nilphamari, Sufia is no stranger to the trauma of child marriage. She herself was married at 16.

There are more concerted efforts to prevent child marriage than ever before, but the battle is far from over, says Sufia. Two out of three women in Bangladesh are married as children. 

Sufia went to a BRAC school, and her mother worked with BRAC as a village organiser. After finishing college, Sufia became a teacher at a BRAC school, and went on to become a programme secretary.

Sufia had to leave her 10-month-old son with her in-laws who did not support her work. Her husband, hearing impaired since birth, was unemployed. She could not simply quit her job. She had to take care of her family. Eventually, however, the pressure was too much to cope with though, and Sufia left.

She wanted to continue though. She pursued a Master’s degree, and five years later, armed with her certificate, she started working again, this time for BRAC’s legal aid services in Nilphamari.

Today Sufia’s son is in college, and her four-year-old daughter attends a BRAC school.

The primary responsibility she took on when she was a teacher was to educate people in her locality about child marriage. She talks ruefully about the many families in remote Bangladesh still unaware of its negative effects, or that it is illegal in the first place.

She says these are the communities where girls are most susceptible to exploitation. It is in these communities that she is now conducting her campaigns against child marriage.

The legal division in Nilphamari which Sufia runs has six legal aid service centres that provide assistance against rape, acid attack, and other forms of violence towards women and children. Sufia and her team also hold counselling sessions to educate people about child marriage and encourage them to stand against all forms of abuse.

“The programme gave me a platform to support the people who are in most need,” Sufia says with conviction. “People from these marginalised communities would have nowhere to go without BRAC’s support system. The counselling sessions serve a dual purpose. Not only do they teach about child marriage, but for many, they are the only places where women can find people who will listen to what they are facing.”

Sufia is proud of her work.“Without this programme, many voices would go unheard.”

In a world that can sometimes feel like it was made purely for men, the mother of two’s work has earned her the title of a ‘Joyeeta’, the national platform that recognises women from all backgrounds for dedication towards social progress.

Steadfast in her fight for equality, Sufia says she wants to see a world free of violence and oppression. “And I will fight every single day until I see it.”