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     Volume 6 Issue 28 | July 20 , 2007 |

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Human Rights

Kudos to the Brave Kids from Satkhira

Hana Shams Ahmed

Now this is something you don't get to read in the papers every day. A bunch of small town kids taking to the streets to protest their friend's father's selfish decision to marry his underage daughter off to a man 10 years older than her. And they succeeded it. Yes it took place in Bangladesh, Satkhira to be more specific, and yes they took the initiative all on their own. Something worth opening the morning newspaper for next to all the other not-so-happy news stories.

Habiba Sultana's father, like many poverty-stricken fathers felt that the best way to get rid of his problems was to marry his 13-year-old daughter off to a man who would help him pay his debts in return. We have come to expect no better in the patriarchal set-up that exists in our society. Habiba, being the submissive and deferential daughter that many are brought up to be, accepted with no questions asked. Nothing new in that either. What followed was indeed the first of its kind. When Habiba confided to her friends that this was the last thing on her mind, her conscientious friends from Abdul Karim Girls' High School in the south-western town formed an army of protesters to stop one of the biggest social evils of the country. Habiba's father was not going to bow down to a bunch of kids and let them ruin his plans. So they took to the streets and submitted a petition to the local police to take action. The police came to the rescue and not only stopped the wedding but made the father sign a bond in which he promised not to marry off his daughter until she was an adult.

While that might not exactly be the ideal situation for her, for all we know she will be wheedled into marrying someone she doesn't want to five years from now, it certainly is a positive turn of events. If not anything else, the parents of these 50 campaigners will think twice before they try to enforce something similar on their daughters after this incident.

Most girls are brought up in Bangladesh to be subservient, first to their parents, and then to their husbands. If the parents consider that the neighbourhood boys are taking too much of an interest in their daughter, then her education becomes of secondary importance, or not at all, and marriage is the only option. The daughter, who has seen this trend among all the female members of her family, is led to believe marriage is the only way out from all the 'humiliation' she has to go through for those neighbourhood boys. After marriage, her husband is the least interested in her education. He needs someone to look after his cooking and laundry. How many girls in this country are privileged enough to be part of the 'shushil shomaj' where they can actually choose their partners? Not that the 'shushil shomaj' is free from such enslavements either. Recently a wanted ad has been going around in the web community, looking for an anchorperson for a TV show dealing with political and social issues. Someone applied with great enthusiasm believing he had the qualities they were looking for -- socially and politically conscious, smart, confident etc. His application was immediately turned down. Because of course he did not meet the main (unspecified) criteria. The anchorperson has to be a woman. Why a social, political TV programme needs a woman as an anchor is anybody's guess. Will it get more viewers? Will it add more value to the programme? Will her face 'sell' better? I'm sure the programme marketers have a better answer to that question.

India Today has highlighted another dangerous trend among adolescent girls following in the steps of their mothers a little too early, spending oodles of money on beauty parlours to make themselves look like 'that girl in the magazine'. This includes manicures, pedicures, facials, and the whole shebang. A certain section of the upper crust in this country is also following suit. Who knows it may be the first step to get prepared for the anchorperson position that some TV show will require 10 years from now.

Without further digressing from the brave heroes of the day, the little girls from Satkhira have made the unthinkable happen and certainly changed the destiny of one girl . Many adults could learn from these kids to be more mature and respect the right of a person to take his/her own decision. To quote the great poet Khalil Gibran “Your children are not your children... and though they are with you yet they belong not to you”.


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