Moriom has a compassionate perspective about her mother’s choice to marry her off a few years ago to her neighbor, who was substantially older than her. She was still a child at the time. She says she’s not angry about it, though the vacant look in her eyes indicates her resignation.
Holding a wriggling toddler on her hip, the 16-year-old thinks back to when she found out about the arrangement: “I suffered a lot when my mother told me I would marry someone twice my age. But when she said it was impossible to feed me, I didn’t want to be a burden.” She was told that the family she was marrying into was stable, that it was solid plan for her future. It just wasn’t one she was consulted about. Growing up, Moriom had dreamed of being a teacher, but she only made it to grade four; as with most child brides, her marriage brought the end to formal education and the beginning of motherhood.
Moriom’s story is depressingly common: One of every 10 girls in the developing world is married before she turns 18, but in Bangladesh, the figure is over six in 10, according to Unicef. And, while the rate has gone down over the last 15 years, the numbers are still staggering. Poverty is a main economic driver of child marriage, but the systemic nature of the practice extends beyond people not being able to take care of their children—child marriage is frequent in cultures that place a high value on female virginity as a currency for a family’s status in the community.
Image: Laxmi, a teenager from a village near Sylhet, who supports her family as a seamstress. (Josh Estey)