Compelled by financial struggles and cultural norms, girls in Bangladesh often enter into marriage well before their eighteenth birthday, sometimes when they are barely teenagers. When a girl enters marriage without the psychological maturity necessary to manage her relationship with her husband and in-laws, or the physical maturity necessary to cope with pregnancy, it puts her at a disadvantage for life. She is less able to negotiate crucial aspects of her life, such as the use of contraception, with her husband. Pregnancy can have devastating affects for both the mother and child when the mother’s body is not yet mature.
To address the problem of early marriage and the issues surrounding it, Pathfinder International/Bangladesh designed the model program, Raising the Age of Marriage for Young Girls in Bangladesh. The three-year project was launched in July 2003 with support from an anonymous donor, and closed at the end of June 2006. Through education, the project empowers girls to take control of their futures. The three aspects of the program—primary and secondary school support, advocacy, and vocational training—combine to help girls overcome the hurdles that prevent them from finishing school, finding employment, and delaying marriage until they are ready. The project targeted the neediest girls within five upazilas (subdistricts) of Kishoreganj, one of the poorest areas of Bangladesh.