When I visited my mother country, Bangladesh, for the first time at the age of 10, I never knew that one moment would change my life forever. The first night in the new country, my father took our family to his home village, Noakhali.
My brother and I groaned when we stepped out of the car at the thought of having no internet connection for two weeks.
“Chinta korona”, my mother purred. “Don’t worry. We’re surrounded by nature! Take it all in!”
After we greeted everyone and was stuffed with pita and the million different types of bajis that I never knew existed, I immediately grabbed my pillows and teddy bear, Sandy, and slumped into the thin blankets on the floor. I started to close my eyes until a feeling of someone watching me overwhelmed. I quickly turned around and saw a girl in a long dress covered in holes, staring at me from the corner of the room. It was our maid’s daughter, Rita. I waved my hand at the nine year old girl and noticed that she’s not staring at me, but at Sandy. Her eyes were huge; filled with curiosity and hope.
“This is Sandy. She’s basically my best friend! I tell her everything!”, I say in English.
She nodded. She doesn’t understand what I’m saying but still responded with a small smile. She lays next to me, and combs Sandy’s hair with her fingers. I let her hold Sandy, and she clutches onto the bear and buried her face into the soft fur. With exchanges of quiet laughs and smiles, we both fell asleep.
I wake up in the middle of the night and hear a familiar voice yelling and scurried footsteps running back and forth. I kick off the blankets and realize Rita is not next to me. The shrieks and footsteps starts to grow louder and louder as I quietly grab a chair to stand on, and watch from the window.
“You can’t do this!”, I hear my father say as he grips onto a man I never seen. “I demand you to stop this. This can’t happen!” My father’s hands tightened onto his arms. My mother and aunts are huddled behind him, crying quietly.
“Ruhul bhai… you understand how this country works. This is the only option.”
Only option? What do they mean? What are they talking about?, I wonder.
I look to my left and see a black car with shadows inside, parked in the corner near the porch. I squint and try to make out the blurry faces in the car, and tip toe on the wooden chair. The shadows inside begins to move; two bigger ones and one familiar smaller one. I lean on the window and place my hand on the curtain for balance.
Who’s inside? Is that who Abu is talking about?
I lean forward, desperately trying to see the strange shadows. Suddenly, the legs of the chair breaks off and collapses. I grab a fistful of the curtain, and clash, hitting against the marbled floor. My mother and aunts rushes into the room and hurriedly grabs me off the floor.
“Stupid girl! What were you doing? Spying on your elders!”, my mother whispers behinds her gritted teeth. She pushes me to my bed and checks for any bruises.
“But Amu, what’s happening? Why is Abu screaming?”
“Hush. Close your eyes and go to sleep. This is grown up stuff. No need to wonder.” She places Sandy in my arms and kisses my forehead. “Sleep.” And so I did.
“Wake up, wake up! Hurry!”, my older brother shook my body as I tried to get back into reality. My vision was still blurry until I saw a crowd outside our house.
“What’s wrong?” I grab Sandy and dragged my feet to the window. A large palanquin was carried out with several men on both sides and the villagers are throwing rose petals. The neighborhood was quiet and everything suddenly felt eerie and tense. No one mutters a sound except for one woman next to the palanquin, crying the name of God in pain.
“Who’s getting married? What’s happening?”, I struggled to look inside the large basket. My brother took my hand and goes outside, pushing the people out of the way. I squinted my eyes, and see Rita, wrapped around a red saree. Her eyes did not look like yesterday’s. Her eyes were big; full of fear, sadness and tears. Nine year old Rita was the bride.
My stomach immediately tightened into a million different knots. My hands were suddenly shaking, and I couldn’t make it stop. I had realized that we were living in two completely opposite worlds. It was as if I was living in a parallel universe. The culture I once thought was so beautiful had flaws I would never have thought of.
I ask my parents about her sometimes every now and then. But every time I do, they both shutter. Rita is seventeen years old now with two children. Her husband is a 36-year-old tailor whose former wife had died seven months before marrying Rita. They moved away from Noakhali two years after their marriage and no one has heard from them since.
Every year, 15 million girls are married off before the age of 18. 28 girls every minute. 1 every 2 seconds.
The reason why Rita was married off was because of the lack of opportunities and resources. Her mother, a widow, no longer had enough money to take care of herself and her only child. In rural villages like Noakhali where poverty is prevalent, there are very little job opportunities for young women or even local schools for girls. The only school that accepted girls was eight miles away and Rita had no access to transportation. If Rita had enough money to ride the bus, she would’ve been able to go to school. If Rita was able to go to school, she would’ve had the chance to someday have a job, and take care of herself and her mother. If Rita had one chance, one opportunity, her youth would’ve never been taken away from her. She still would’ve been able to be a child. Because that’s what she was. A child.
If you’d like to learn more information about child marriages and how to end it visit: