Youth initiatives nearly eradicate child marriage in Sreemangal's tea gardens


18 October, 2023, 12:00 pm
Last modified: 18 October, 2023, 02:19 pm
Sreemangal has 42 tea gardens among 92 in Moulvibazar district

Sorna Kalwar, a 16-year-old 9th grader from Sreemangal's Satgaon Tea Garden, narrowly avoided a forced marriage arranged by her father thanks to the intervention by a local youth leader. 

Upon learning that a child marriage was being arranged in her tea garden, Sheuly Kairi, a youth group member, informed the authorities concerned, who successfully intervened to halt the wedding and educated the girl's parents about the risks of child marriage.

Acts of heroism like Sheuli's and her youth group's efforts are instrumental in resolving such social ailments within tea gardens. They also collaborate to combat criminal activities and prevent sexual harassment in these areas.

As a result, child marriage and sexual harassment have come down to almost zero in Sreemangal's 42 tea gardens among 92 in Moulvibazar district, according to tea workers and organisations who work on such issues.

Breaking The Silence, an NGO combating child sexual abuse in Bangladesh, aids in establishing such youth groups. They have been actively working on projects to prevent these issues in tea gardens for 11 years.

Pervez Kairi, the coordinator of Breaking the Silence's Sreemangal project, noted that female workers and their children at tea plantations often used to suffer from sexual harassment but were denied justice due to their silence. 

"However, the situation has now shifted, as we're actively raising awareness among teenagers and forming groups to prevent sexual harassment and child marriage," he said.

Sukesh Bakti, a youth leader of Varaura Tea Garden in Sreemangal, told The Business Standard that once almost 70% workers in the tea estate were victims of child marriage.

"Now it is down to almost zero," Sukesh said. 

"I've personally intervened to prevent 4-5 child marriages in our area. We're not only raising awareness among parents but also providing detailed guidance to teenagers on these issues," he added.

Nur Mohammad, president of the Panchayat Committee of Varyaura Tea Garden, told TBS that 465 male and 340 female workers are registered in his tea garden. 

"If any complaint is received, action is taken immediately," he said. 

Sreemangal Upazila Nirbahi Officer Ali Rajib Mahmud Mithun told TBS that senior officers at his office are very active in preventing child marriage. 

"We are working on increasing awareness among tea workers and undertaking projects to improve their quality of life," he added. 

Dare to report

Earlier this month, TBS talked to 30 youths in three tea gardens in Sreemangal. They all said the tea gardens were a lot safer because of the youth groups. 

Lipi Hazra, a second-year HSC student and the daughter of a tea plantation worker in Sreemangal, told TBS that a local school teacher had been sentenced to three years in jail for inappropriate behaviour towards a seventh grader who bravely reported the incident.

"Thanks to our collective efforts, nobody dares to behave inappropriately with students anymore. We feel supported and have no hesitation in reporting any wrongdoing," she remarked.

Habibul Bashar, another member of the youth group, said the groups are also changing how others outside the tea workers' community treat them.

He told TBS, as children of tea plantation workers, the teachers were not favourably disposed toward them and other students refused to play with them. "However, that environment no longer exists because of the awareness created by the youth groups." 


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