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She was pressured to marry at age 14, but Shwapna wanted a different future

December 09, 2014

Girls' Education Bangladesh

“When I realized that I had successfully prevented the marriage, it gave me confidence to know that I am quite capable of overcoming any obstacle in my life, now and in the future”

When the results of the secondary school certificate examination were published, Mr. Based Ali wept. His 16-year-old daughter, Shwapna, had earned a perfect score and passed with highest marks. With the entire village gathered at Based’s house to celebrate, he decided it was time to publicly admit something that he had struggled with for many years.

“Parents generally help their kids study,” he said. “But I pressured my daughter instead to marry when she was 14. I pressured her to spend time on household chores instead of school. It was only Shwapna’s devotion to learning and her continuous inspiration and support from Room to Read that helped to bring us all to this unbelievable day. I am grateful!”

In Pratapdighi Village where Shwapna lives, it is common for parents to arrange their daughters’ marriages after 8th grade. Based had arranged for Shwapna to be married to a local shopkeeper, just as he had arranged for her older sister to be married at age 15. Shwapna did not want this same fate so she refused her parents’ demand, but they continued to pressure her. As punishment for going against their wishes, Shwapna was given more housework and family chores, including running her father’s grocery store. With the added workload, her schoolwork suffered. Determined to continue her regular studies and keep from falling behind, Shwapna approached a friend for advice.

“I went to my friend, Shymoli, and her mother asking for their suggestions. Shymoli’s mother insisted I stand against this decision,” explained Shwapna. “I had also heard about Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program and that they might be able to help. I searched out the social mobilizer at our school, explained my problem and asked her to speak with my father.” The social mobilizer agreed to visit Based to help him understand the value of education and the long-term consequences of early marriage. After many sessions, Based finally agreed to support Shwapna’s decision and reduce her chores so she could continue her studies. Shwapna could not contain her excitement.

Shwapna set her sights on passing the Secondary School Certificate Exam to gain access to higher secondary school and pave the way for university studies. Room to Read offered support through tutoring and life skills training, which included workshops on preparing for exams, stress management and planning for her future. “My dream is to enter the highest level of education in Bangladesh,” Shwapna says. “Thanks to Room to Read, I have the courage to go after my dreams!”

For more stories of changed destinies, check out our Destination Literacy publication.

Learn more about our Girls Education Program and our work in Bangladesh.