The News was published in the BSS
When Jahanara Begum was merely 11 years old in 1994, she along with her family members was forced to migrate to Dhaka city from Bhola, losing their homestead, arable land and all belongings to the erosion of mighty Meghna River.
“We were displaced in Bhola seven times due to riverbank erosion. That’s why my father had no alternative to moving to Dhaka leaving everything behind,” Jahanara said, recalling the memories of her childhood and neighborhood where she grew up.
“We took shelter at a slum in city’s Mirpur area. And I was forced to get married in 1997 at the age of 14, as my father was unable to bear the expenses of a big family,” she added.
One year after her marriage, Jahanara and her husband shifted to Korail slum in 1998 and started her new family with extreme poverty. “In early days of Korial slum, we were in plight as my day-labourer husband could not earn enough money to bear the family expenses.”
She had to pass nearly a decade in the city slum with extreme poverty and finally found a ray of hope to survive when the lady got involved in an urban poverty reduction project in 2008.
“I was selected as the community development committee (CDC) president in 2008 and learnt how to generate income under the project, which helped me cut our poverty,” said Jahanara, now a mother of four children.
Despite being a victim of child marriage, she worked with 200 adolescent girls of slums under the UPPR project aiming to help the girls prevent child marriage and create awareness among slum dwellers about the social menace.
Noting that she took part in several training programmes on child marriage prevention, Jaharana said she has prevented 7 to 8 child marriage incidents directly with the help of women community leaders of the slum.
“When I came here in 2008, child marriage, violence against women and girls and eve-teasing were common phenomena in Korail slum. Now, the situation has changed.”
Now, she said, no child marriage can take place in the slum. “When we hear about any child marriage or violence against woman taking place, we all the community leaders rush to the spot and stop these incidents,” she added.
“Once, in the past, we did not have enough courage to prevent eve-teasing, violence against women and child marriage, but now we come forward to prevent these incidents together in Korail slum,” said Jahanara, president of Community Housing Development Fund set up under Livelihood Improvement of Urban Poor Communities (LIUPC) Project, being implemented by Local Government Division and supported by UNDP.
LIUPC Town Manager Md Jainal Abedin said women community leaders like Jahanara have been playing a vital role in preventing child marriage and other violence against women in urban slums.
They are mobilising slum dwellers to raise their voice against the social menaces, he said, adding that the women community leaders have been working to help slum dwellers find livelihood options too.
Early marriage is highly prevalent in urban slums in Bangladesh. Girls are usually burdened with maintaining their family’s honour. When a girl child reaches puberty, parents worry about protecting her chastity.