To the Highest Bidder

"Nearly a third of Bangladeshi girls are married off before they're even 15."

What were you doing at the age of thirteen? Reading a Roald Dahl novel, riding your bike to the park, having your first kiss? A childhood is something we look back on nostalgically and often take for granted, however, for many girls in developing countries, enjoying their youth and naivety as a child is not an option. 

One particular episode of Dateline really opened my eyes to the bygone traditions of poverty-stricken countries like Bangladesh. It followed a 13 year old girl by the name of Beezly, and her family's preparations towards her illegal arranged marriage. Shyamal, her 25 y.o. fiancĂ©, claims he was offered numerous other brides by desperate families seeking to sell off their daughters, but he chose Beezly because she was the youngest and therefore the most "pure." This obscure practice may sound like something out of 300BC, but horrifically, it is still a frequent occurrence in the modern day society we live in today. 

The reality that multiple children are offered to a grown man by their own families made me wonder about the fate of the girls that are rejected; especially when the mindset of these Bangladeshi people is that if a girl is unable to be sold off, she would bring dishonor to the family. It is understandable why these families living in poverty marry off their daughters at such a young age - because it lessens their financial burden and possibly offers the young girls a better life - but this trade has been declared illegal, and there is good reason for it. 

Men like Shyamal expect their wives to meet their instinctual and primal needs, and these girls are taught to comply without protest. Men in this culture are raised to believe they are entitled to a wife that will do anything they desire, and as the bride moves in with her husband and in-laws once she is married off, the girls often have no other choice but to oblige. 13 y.o. Beezly, who once wanted to be a doctor when she grew up, now holds no other aspirations but to serve and please her husband - a man she has only met once. The thumbnail image for this article is a photograph of Beezly sobbing and about to collapse on the ground (at her wedding ceremony) because she is too overwhelmed from this whole ordeal. 

The justification behind this illegal trade is the tradition behind arranged marriages. The idea that a daughter should be sold off once they hit puberty has become normalized, because their mothers and grandmothers were married off as well. In these developing countries, it is also too costly to feed, shelter and clothe girls. The few that receive basic education are considered lucky.

What about the girls? What about the children who are forced to become women overnight? Beezly says she "didn't agree to [the] wedding... [she] wanted to study." The physical and psychological  wellbeing of these girls are jeopardized once they are given off to their husbands. 12, 13, 14 y.o. girls are sexually abused; and because they are at such a vulnerable and developmental stage in their lives, childbirth complications are more than likely to arise. Since girls are forced to provide offspring at such a young age, childbirth can cause excruciating and sometimes irreparable damage to their genitals. This includes a torn vaginal opening and urethra which means they are no longer able to control their bladders and are in constant pain. As a result, these girls are considered liabilities and discarded by their husbands for younger, more "pure" women.

However, there are men who are trying to educate and further prevent this abhorrent trade from continuing. Keshab Roy, a human rights campaigner, is trying to change the dire situation for these girls. After his niece committed suicide because she was forced into an arranged marriage, Keshab willed himself to go from door to door of the families that were considering to sell off their daughters. Travelling from village to village with a group of boys, he confronts parents face-to-face and pleads with them to keep their daughters in school.

"If you try to make arrangement[s], we will prevent it or try to dissolve it... I'll make sure I stop it."

Here is the Dateline episode.

Author: Liv