Shapla Banu, age 13, attended a Youth Ending Hunger study group where she lives in Patnitola Upazila of Nagaon District in Bangladesh. The topic: child marriage. Ward member Ms. Rajia Sultana was the guest lecturer.

Shapla explains what happened shortly thereafter. “One afternoon when I came back from school, I was surprised to see so many people gathering at our house. I asked mother, ‘what is going on?’ She did not answer my question, but asked me to follow whatever instructions were given. I came to realize that all of this was for the preparation of my wedding. I was bewildered. I am only 13 years old. How could my parent think of my marriage? I had to stop this happening to me. I remembered our ward member, Ms. Rajia, and her lecture. I decided to call her for help. I borrowed my sister-in-law’s mobile phone and secretly called her. Within one hour, Ms Rajia arrived in our house like an angel.”

Leading the charge

"Given the opportunity to generate and control an income, a woman routinely invests significant portions of her income in food, healthcare and education for their families."

Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. Girls – who have often been fed last and least their entire lives – are married and give birth when they are still undernourished children themselves. This creates a cycle of malnutrition and inequality that continues generation after generation. But it doesn’t have to.

Empowering women to be key change agents is essential to breaking this cycle and achieving the end of hunger once and for all. Educated girls marry later, have healthier children and take an active role in their communities to ensure the rights of other women are upheld. Given the opportunity to generate and control an income, a woman routinely invests significant portions of her income in food, healthcare and education for their families.

A change of heart

When Ms. Rajia arrived at Shapla’s home, she talked with Shapla’s father, who explained that the offer of marriage from a wealthy family was too good to refuse. Shapla’s mother, never very vocal, suddenly chimed in that she could not do this to her daughter. After hearing more about the laws and strict penalties for child marriage, Shapla’s father promised to not marry her off before age 18.

Through specialized programs like the Youth Ending Hunger program and Animator Trainings, The Hunger Project works to shift the global general imbalance of power and responsibility and build communities’ capacity to end their own hunger and poverty. Ms. Rajia is one of many elected officials trained as a Hunger Project volunteer leader in Bangladesh, where 170,000 such animators are educating their communities on issues of gender equality and women’s rights. Through The Hunger Project’s Youth Ending Hunger program, about 15,000 students nationwide meet monthly and plan activities to improve their communities – activities like the study group on child marriage that Shapla was lucky enough to attend.

Shapla shared, “I thank the study group I went to that day. It freed me from the curse of child marriage. My friends and teachers admire me for my courage. But I am just glad to be an inspiration for others.”