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Raising Youth Voices to Stop Child Marriage and Dowry in Bangladesh

These seed grants were funded by Johnson & Johnson and WomanCare Global via the Women Deliver C Exchange Youth Initiative.

By: SM Shaikat, SERAC-Bangladesh

The title of my project - “Jagoroni” - means rising. This rising is to prevent two major disparities and human rights violations in Bangladesh society - child marriage and dowry. The plan was to engage youth to lead this rising, and Women Deliver’s C Exchange Youth Initiative became our opportunity to start.

I wanted to train young people so they could become change agents in their communities and, as a group, these volunteers were named as “Jagori,” meaning wakeful. The project was aimed to develop a watchdog group of young people that will be on the lookout for dowry violence and child marriage issues in Mymensingh, the district that has the highest rate of dowry cases in Bangladesh.

Throughout the six-month project, the SERAC-Bangladesh team trained 650 young volunteers in the district and each of the 13 sub-districts has 50 people actively working. The volunteers were informed about basic human rights, including identifying violence and tackling every child marriage and dowry case with caution. The young volunteers know how to communicate with the stakeholders and target population and were provided with cell phones and with a hotline number for each sub-district. They were also given print materials including posters, stickers, leaflets, and flyers to reach people living in the area. Currently, the groups are led by two leaders – one male and one female – and were elected in a purely democratic and transparent election among the volunteers.

We had to be very careful in designing the materials for the project and consider the social taboos and legal frameworks. Major tasks after training and equipping the groups was to set up the communications and advocacy campaigns, as well as forming the stakeholder group. We have been able to set up the project so that every sub-district to have its own logbook to register community responses and cases, as well as its own hotline number.

Since implementing the project, a number of responses were received and three child marriage and one dowry case have been solved. Many more are under investigation. We are also receiving a good number of requests online and offline to join the Jagori groups, which we consider a sign of popularity and success. In addition, the approach our volunteers are taking is highly appreciated by stakeholders, including police and administration officials.

Despite some challenges like political unrest and the government’s decision to close on educational institutions for the month of Ramadan, the motivation of the young volunteers has been great. They have challenged powerful opposition and, in some cases, finally received support from government agencies. We have also created many youth-adult partnerships to get community stakeholders involved, proving to the adult generation that a group of young people can make a big difference. We consider this approach to be a positive take-away from the project and think it can be replicated in other models as a way of tackling violence against girls and women.

Media, especially mass and social media, have been very important to the project. It has allowed us to reach a huge population inside and outside of the country, including many national and global actors. We have engaged a very active group of journalists who have been an important for the project’s success.

We have also received support from many influential personalities, including ministers, mayors, sub-district chairman, and government officials who have supported us in conveying messages. Global actors including UNICEF, Women Deliver, Girls Not Brides, and many others have published materials and reports which were very helpful in designing and implementing the project.

At this point, the project has just ended, but the youth advocates continue to be committed to tackling dowry and child marriage cases in Mymensingh. As a project manager, I am happy to say that the project was successful and impactful. But as a human being, I know that we cannot now forget our responsibilities of ending human rights violations like dowry and child marriage.

Therefore, we are calling for more investment in ideas that protect women and girls. Finally, I would like to acknowledge the support from Women Deliver and its funding partners and join them in saying that investing in girls, women, and young people is not just the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do.

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