DHAKA, Dec 11, 2020 (BSS) – Fifteen-year-old Armin Akter (not the real name) was on verge of getting married two years ago, when she called local Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) and pleaded for help. The UNO responded quickly and convinced her parents to stop the marriage.
“Thanks to the club (Adolescent Club), I learned from there about the sufferings a girl has to endure if she gets married before 18. So I opposed to get married so early and if I wasn’t aware of this, I would have become a mother by now,” Armin said proudly.
Many youths like Armin are becoming more and more aware about the dangers of child marriage from the Adolescent Clubs across the country. Around 2,100 such clubs are carrying out their activities across the country under the government’s “Accelerating Protection for Children (APC)” Project with the support from Unicef Bangladesh.
Unicef Bangladesh’s Education and Child Protection Specialist Monira Hasan said any disadvantaged children and youths aged between nine to 19 years, who have dropped out from the school or did not ever went to school or working, can become members of these clubs.
“But the children from woman-led families get priority in becoming members of these clubs. One club consists of 30-35 youths, of which 70 percent are girls. They have to follow two conditions to become members to these clubs – they have to study and cannot marry before 18,” Monira Hasan said.
She said the club members are taught about how HIV spreads, how the girls will take care of themselves during their menstruation, what kind of problems they would suffer in early marriage, how to cross roads and go to shops, how to tackle adolescent changes.
“The youths also learn about how to convey problems to their parents, what they will do if someone looks at them with bad intention, how they will face problems like eve-teasing. They are given lessons in swimming and computer. They are also given 18 government training like stitching and beauty parlor, so that they can earn for themselves,” Monira added.
When asked about the things they do during the ongoing corona situation, the Unicef child protection specialist said, though the physical activities of these clubs were halted, they were active online. She said the children and youths were given training on health safety guidelines and how to tackle mental stress.
Accelerating Protection for Children (APC) Project Monitoring and Documentation Officer Mahbub Hossain said children and youth have so much to say and so much to learn.
“But they don’t get someone dependable to share their thoughts without fear. We through these clubs listen to them, solve their problems. Here we teach them life proficiency, morality through life skill based education. We are planning to teach them a curriculum named Standardized Adolescent Empowerment Package through the experts,” Mahbub Hossain said.
Deputy Secretary and APC project director SM Latif said the children and youth are also getting aware about themselves from these clubs. They are learning about different helpline numbers and using those as well.
“The club members are becoming more vocal against child marriage. Their families and society are getting benefits from this. The government now is considering whether to run these clubs in each community as well,” he said.
Apart from the APC, the government under the Department of Women Affairs runs 4,800 youth clubs in primary schools in each union of the country.
“Though the project was launched in 2018, we have not achieved that much progress so far. But the aim of this project is very noble. The children are given two-hour training on each Friday and Saturday on tackling child marriage, eve-teasing, drug addiction and how to face adolescent changes. We also give them training on singing and karate,” project director Jayanta Kumar Shikder said.