When Moni was 9 years old her elder sister got married. Her older sister was 12 at the time. Just over 2 weeks after the wedding, her sister returned home unrecognizable. She had become thin and her body was covered in bruises. She subsequently found out that the man her sister married was an alcoholic and had been treating her sister very poorly. Moni comes from a region of Bangladesh where child marriage is the norm and this was her first real encounter with child marriage. This was the experience that set her on the path to campaign against and end child marriage in Bangladesh.
Moni’s second close encounter with child marriage was when she was 13. Her best friend was married off in a secret, midnight ceremony by her parents. The fact that her friends parents had gone to such lengths to hide their child’s marriage, and that child marriage is illegal in Bangladesh, really showed Moni that unless someone spoke up against this practice, no one would. She decided to try and stop every child marriage in her village. She said that “Since that day, every time I come to know about a child marriage, I show up at their parents’ house and try to stop that. I have personally seen the adverse effects of child marriage and I will not let that happen to any girl”.
Moni took a guerrilla approach to her activism. First, she started by showing up to marriage ceremonies and talking to the parents, convincing them that what they were doing is wrong. She also made home visits to girls who were considered of marriagable age trying to convince the parents that child marriage was wrong and talking to the girls themselves, empowering them to say no and educating them on the risks of this practice.
The thing that I find really inspiring is that Moni took up a cause against something that is so ingrained into the area in which she lives. That she firmly believes and knows that girls are more than just objects to be married off and that she as a girl, as someone with a voice, can fight these systems that are not only oppressive but also dangerous.
Moni as she got later into her teen years went on to continue to campaign against child marriage. At 17, she spoke at the 70th United Nations Save the Children conference and has since formed a team of youth leader in her community that are also working to end child marriage. They are working to lower the teen pregnancy rate, increase girls education and improve mothers’ health care facilities.
“I want the government to have regulations and policies to reduce child marriage and teenage pregnancy. I want equal opportunities for all girls in the country. Instead of getting married in their teens, girls should be encouraged to grow and educate themselves because they have immense potential in the future Bangladesh”Moni Begum
Moni take a community level approach to her activism, talking to the people in her region and explaining why child marriage is bad in terms they will understand. She hopes to continue to grow her work and build government policies and regulations that will definitively end the practice. And the amazing thing is she does all this without internet connection.