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Divorced By Age 20 - Life As a Child Bride in Bangladesh

“Our marriage was a bet he had with his friends. He never intended to have a life with me”, says Moushumi, who was married and divorced by the age of 20.

Moushumi is an active performer at the Theatre for Development (TfD) team supported by Plan International Bangladesh in her local community. One of the main aims of the TfD performances is to raise awareness about child marriage. Despite this, Moushumi did not heed the warnings and married early.

Moushumi’s mother is one of her father’s three wives, poverty has always been part of Moushumi’s life. Her father’s polygamous nature made it even more difficult for them to survive. Yet, Moushumi managed to continue her education by providing private tuition and other part-time jobs.

The frustration of her personal life always troubled her. Three years ago, when he accidently called the wrong number, Moushumi started conversing with Altaf. At first they just spoke for a few minute, but then they started spending more time talking and, before long, Moushumi & Altaf became involved in a love affair.

Altaf lived in another district and one day he asked Moushumi to come visit him. When she got there, Altaf asked her to marry him straight away. “I was not prepared. I had no intention of getting married in such a way, but on an emotional whim, he convinced me”. Moushumi and Altaf got married the next day and she returned to her home.

“I thought that after marriage my family will have one less mouth to feed. My marriage will make things easier for my mother as we seldom get any support from our father. But fate planned something different for me”.

Moushumi at home with her mother and her siblings

Sadly Moushumi was not accepted by her parents-in-law. During the small amount of time Moushumi spent there, she was regularly taunted about how she had gotten away without paying a dowry. Eventually, Altaf moved to live with Moushumi’s family, causing the already poverty-stricken family to sink further into poverty.

Moushumi started a full time job working for an NGO as a community facilitator and also continued with her education. Moushumi’s mother took a microfinance loan of BDT 50,000 (USD 625) from an NGO to bribe an entrepreneur to get a job for Altaf.

However, Altaf did not want to work and was unhappy that Moushumi had a job. Every now and then, he would attack Moushumi for working late in the afternoon or for traveling to another area. Within days, the abuse escalated.

Soon, his attacks become unbearable, and mounting debt started accumulating form the loan taken out for Altaf. On top of that, his family was demanding a dowry which Moushumi and her family could not pay. Altaf and his family started pressurising Moushumi for divorce so that he could go abroad and remarry a girl with large dowry.

“Altaf’s friends provoked him by saying that I was a smart girl and I would never marry him. So they made a bet in which he had to marry me to win. He was never serious about the marriage”, says Moushumi. “From the very beginning, I knew the marriage would not work out”.

Moushumi decided to agree to the divorce get divorced. “He was a different person after marriage. Nothing felt right about the marriage. I tried my best to make it right for three years but eventually I gave in”.

Moushumi is now pursuing a Bachelor in Arts degree from a local college. She is also working as a community facilitator for an NGO. With her and her sister’s income, the family of five - three sisters, one brother and their mother – are paying their bills and struggling hard to pay off their debt.

My married life seems like a nightmare to me. The whole time I felt trapped. I was shattered, but I gathered myself. Now, I hope for a better future.

Moushumi wants to complete her education and get a better job to help ther family. “I also hope to get married again; to a person who respects my decisions and opinions”, says Moushumi, reflecting her optimism with a bright smile. 

Plan International Bangladesh works with local partners to carry out more than 450 Theatre for Development performances every year. These are an opportunity for rural girls and women, who are often unable to leave their villages, to access information about early marriage and child protection.

The recent Asia Child Marriage Initiative Report from Plan International found that 73% of women who are currently married in Bangladesh were married as children, and this number is far greater for girls than for boys.

Life of a child bride: Moushumi
Moushumi is now planning for her future and getting a degree.