Mariam is the eldest of four siblings. She was forced into marriage about a year ago when she was a student of class VI. Her poor parents could not bear her educational expenses.
Barely one year to her marriage, Mariam had been driven away from her in-laws' house on three to four occasions for dowry. Her parents-in-law have left her at her parents' home for the same reason a few days ago.
Mariam's father Momedul Islam is a rickshaw-van puller while her mother Selina Begum works at a puffed rice factory. The poverty-stricken couple married off their adolescent child in the hope that it would give them some relief from the economic burden, but they are now passing restless times to meet the demands for dowry.
Meanwhile, another girl named Rikta from Mariam's village was married off before she reached 16 years of age. Her father Hamidul Islam pulls rickshaw while her mother Fazila Begum works at a readymade garments factory in the capital.
Rikta, who has six siblings, was married off about one and a half years ago on the pretext of insecurity. Illiterate Rikta is now the mother of one child.
About marrying Rikta off too early, her mother said, "Both my husband and I stay in Dhaka for earning livelihood, leaving our children in the village.
"We find it difficult to earn enough to meet our family expenditures. On top of that, the environment of the village is not good; the rowdy boys of the village disturb our girls. Therefore, we married our child off without thinking much."
Rikta said despite having an eagerness for education she was forced out of school due to poverty. The same reason has had prompted her to get married at a premature age, she added.
Rikta noted she underwent many complications while giving birth to her child. "I had to stay at a hospital for seven days. The newborn also was very weak," she said.
Like Mariam and Rikta, many girls from Uttar Ghanirampur Adarshapara village of Kursha union in Taraganj upazila under Rangpur district have been victimised by child marriage. In spite of the fact that the administration is now very much vigilant, at least seven incidents of child marriage have taken place in the village over the last one and a half years.
In a visit to the village, The Business Standard found that more than 50 families live in the small village. The males in the village earn their livelihood either by pulling rickshaw and van or by working as day labourers. On the other hand, most of the women there work as housemaids, while some others rush to Dhaka for jobs in apparel factories.
The residents of the village have got government khas land to build house, but they are deprived of education facilities. No one from the village has yet gone beyond the secondary level of education.
Because of a number of reasons including illiteracy, poverty and a lack of security, child marriage has become a commonplace in the village.
Surprisingly, the government and non-government organisations working in relevant fields are unaware of the situation in Ghanirampur Adarshapara.
Project coordinator of Brac's Ultra Poor Graduation Programme Abdul Alim said they work on 12 areas including child marriage, dowry, and repression against women, but that they do not have any knowledge about the situation in Ghanirampur.
"We go door-to-door to make people aware of the negative impacts of child marriage. No one has informed us of the recurrence of child marriage in the village; if we were informed we must have taken necessary measures," he said.
Upazila Health and Family Planning Officer of Taraganj Hosne Ara pointed out girls getting married prior to reaching 18 years of age suffer from different health issues. Mothers giving birth at an early age (less than18 years) face more pregnancy related complications, she said.
Both an adolescent mother and her child suffer from malnutrition, she said, adding adolescent mothers are also at a greater risk of uterine cancer.
When asked for comment over the issue, Kursha Union Parishad Chairman Afzalul Sarker said they arrange various meetings and rallies at all wards of the union on a regular basis to prevent child marriage. Besides, he said, the village defence police and union parishad members play a proactive role to prevent child marriage.
He said, if necessary, they also inform the officer-in-charge of the local police station as well as the local upazila nirbahi officer of any attempt for child marriage.
Chairman Afzalul Sarker claimed that he is completely unaware of the fact that so many incidents of child marriage are taking place in Ghanirampur village.
"In a bid to conceal the child marriage oftentimes the parents of a premature bride arrange her marriage ceremony in relatives' house," he explained.
Taraganj Upazila Nirbahi Officer Aminul Islam said they take prompt action whenever they come to know about the attempt for any child marriage.
Anyone involved in child marriage are subject to jail term up to two years, he pointed out, adding they will look into the incidents of child marriage that have taken place in Ghanirampur Adarshapara village.