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Bangladesh: Tomorrow

The youth of Bangladesh are becoming strong advocates for child rights. Photo: 2014 Jon Warren/World Vision

The youth of Bangladesh are becoming strong advocates for child rights. Photo: 2014 Jon Warren/World Vision

“The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.” Isaiah 9:2

On my trip to Bangladesh last month to learn about World Vision’s child protection work, I was blessed to meet over a hundred teens. Their stories filled me with hope for the future of Bangladesh.

We heard one story, with minor variations, over and over again. It went something like this:

One day, at age twelve, my parents told me I would not be going back to school. Instead I was going to be married in three days. A man had offered to waive the dowry (dowries are illegal but still expected). He promised a good life for me in another city. My family is poor and struggling, so my father accepted his proposal.

I had recently completed World Vision’s Life Skills Workshop. I knew my rights. I knew the dangers and health risks of early marriage. I also knew this could be a scheme to sell me to a brothel. World Vision’s training taught me all this. And so I did the unthinkable. I refused to be married. My parents beat me and locked me in the house. I yelled out the window to my friends. They came with a World Vision staff person to plead for my life. In the end, my parents relented. My father said, “I didn’t know. The blindness is washed away.”

Not all girls are so lucky to be armed with the information they need when they need it to protect themselves, as was the case for Rusmi. This is her story.

Rusmi is fourteen years old. She has grown up with loving parents and a playful eight-year-old brother named Rafi in the Jessore area of southwestern Bangladesh. Although quite poor, Rusmi’s parents have always supported Rusmi in her dream to earn a good education. They even paid a tutor in the neighborhood to give her extra lessons.

One day, the tutor told Rusmi and two other girls that he wanted to take them on a picnic. This was the beginning of Rusmi’s nightmare. The tutor sold the two other girls to brothels far from home and kidnapped Rusmi and took her on a bus to Dhaka. He then forced Rusmi to work in a garment factory by day and raped her at night.

Back home, Rusmi’s mother and father went crazy. The father cried in grief over losing his daughter. He sold everything he owned to try to find Rusmi. After nearly four months, a World Vision staff person in their neighborhood heard about the missing girl. The staff person convinced Rusmi’s parents to come with her to file a police report. The police then went to the tutor’s home and threatened the remaining family members that if they didn’t reveal the tutor’s whereabouts, they would be thrown in prison, and so the tutor’s family gave the police an address in Dhaka, which led them to the tutor and Rusmi.

The tutor is now in prison and Rusmi is back with her family. Before she returned home, however, World Vision provided Rusmi special care in a trauma shelter, including counseling and medical help. Unfortunately, the other two girls have still not been recovered.

Knowing it’s usually impossible for an exploited girl to return to school, World Vision offered Rusmi job skills training. But Rusmi and her family would not abandon their dream for Rusmi’s education. The school teachers were hesitant. They said it wasn’t a good idea for Rusmi to come back, that she wouldn’t be accepted, but World Vision staff convinced the staff and student body that Rusmi had done nothing wrong. She was a victim. Rusmi is now back in school, earning top grades, and enjoying good friendships.

As Rusmi and her parents finished telling us their story, I dabbed tears from my eyes and sat stunned. What if this had been my child? Wouldn’t I, too, give up all I owned to have my child back? Absolutely.

Rusmi and her family graciously offered to answer any questions we might have. I asked Rusmi, “If you were Prime Minister for a day, what changes would you make in your country?” Rusmi was quiet for a few moments, contemplating her answer. I expected her to say something like she would defend the rights of girls and protect them from trafficking, but her answer surprised me. She said, “I would fix the roads.”

I actually love her answer. It shows healing is taking place. She is ready to tackle the normal challenges of day to day life. Imagine the progress in Bangladesh if young people could focus their energy on making their country a better place for business, transportation, education, and healthcare instead of fighting for their rights, rights due them by law but so blatantly disregarded.

A generation of advocates is growing up in Bangladesh, inspired by World Vision, who are fighting for a better world, a world of justice and opportunity for boys and girls.

This is the third report in Sandy’s three part series from Bangladesh. Read part 1 “Yesterday” and part 2 “Today.”

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