When Tanjila Mazumder Drishti’s classmates began leaving school at age 14 or 15 to get married, she realized child marriage wasn’t only happening to low-income girls in Bangladesh the practice was taking place in middle-income and affluent families as well. Now, Drishti’s work educating and preventing child marriages all over Bangladesh, her native country, has earned her a One Young World award, an honor given to less than 50 people out of thousands of applicants.
Shortly after graduating from AUW in 2014 Drishti began working as a Public Affairs Coordinator for Volunteer for Bangladesh in Dhaka.From there, she moved to BRAC, where Drishti was tasked with living in rural areas in Sylhet, Baniachong and other parts of Bangladesh for months at time while overseeing BRAC’s Program Organizers, employees who meet with Bangladeshis receiving BRAC services. Learning that talking face-to-face with women was one of the best ways to educate on the effects of child marriage, Drishti would often wait until a BRAC meeting was over before swooping in and asking to speak to the women for a bit longer.
Many of the women, Drishti said, immediately said they were against child marriage when asked about their opinion. But after she inquired about the age their own daughters were married, many said 14 or 15 believing that child marriage meant small children, not teens. Using her degree in Biological Sciences, Drishti explained why child marriage hurts the girls, since child brides are often not physically mature enough to carry a child, and how an education can serve them better. Drishti knew if she could keep these girls in school just a big longer, they would be able to make their own marriage decisions rather than be forced into a marriage at a young age.
One woman went so far as to go home and speak with her husband about her new views regarding child marriage, resulting in being beaten.
”That was the point when I realized it was making a difference,” Drishti said. “I would never go to an extreme to be physically hurt, and she was willing to take the physical trauma because she believed in it so strongly.”
In Bangladesh, the rates of child marriage have been on the decline in recent years, which appears to be a sign of good news. However, Drishti said, one of the reasons behind this is that in some areas families ask the police to issue their child a voter ID card with an earlier birth year: a child, still 14 or 15 years old, is now legally recorded as 18, making the marriage technically legal. In rural areas where the entire community is a family member or friend of the police, obtaining these cards is relatively easy.
“This problem is there and people will be active in policy-level advocacy, but not necessarily talking to the parents who were making the decisions,” Drishti said. “We have all these laws, we have all this work on the policy-making level but nobody is paying attention on the micro level.”
Additionally, while child marriage is assumed to be a practice in low-income families, affluent families may also marry off their daughters before they are 18 since they are not expected to contribute financially to their parents.
“Even in middle and upper class, it is seen as a waste of resources to educate your daughters because after they marry, they will only contribute to their new family,” she said.
Her passion inspired Volunteer for Bangladesh to nominate Drishti to be a One Young World Ambassador and attend the 2014 Dublin Summit along with more than 1,000 Ambassadors from nearly 200 countries. The Summit, hosted by UK non-profit One Young World, is an annual conference gathering young change-makers in different cities worldwide.
In 2015, Drishti was highlighted as an “Ambassador in Action” for her work ending child marriage, along with just 42 other delegates out of thousands who attend the Summit each year. Now, using resources and advice from the Summit and One Young World counselors, Drishti hopes to create a sustainable way to spread the word of child marriage’s harmful effects.
At AUW, she was a part of Debating Society and the Student Government Association, as well as class speaker at graduation and founder of International Photo Carnival. As an AUW grad, Drishti said she has become more aware of her ability to affect change. “Before joining AUW I knew all these problems existed but I didn’t really care about doing anything about it,” Drishti said “AUW taught me I have a voice, and if no one else is doing something, I can be the first.” Additionally, Drishti said, at AUW she had leadership opportunities her friends at other universities didn’t have, and often meant friends at other schools weren’t used to being proactive. But being proactive, she said, “is something that is natural for AUW women.”