Rehena Patel is using education to change her fate.
For International Day of the Girl Child, Islamic Relief is celebrating the power of adolescent girls, and the determination they have to contribute to global well-being.
Just a few years ago, Rehena was thinking about the kind of man her mother might choose for her to marry. Many adolescent girls dream of love and a family. But for Rehena, who lives in Bangladesh, it was more a grim reality than a teenage fantasy.
Her two older sisters had been married at an early age, and Rehena knew she was likely to face the same future.
After her father, a day labourer, passed away from brain cancer in 2011, her mother could not afford to feed Rehena and her two older sisters. Like many parents in that predicament, her mother agreed to marry her two eldest daughters off when they were still very young; she thought that way, at least, they would be fed.
From a poor family in rural Bangladesh, Rehena had never known anything other than daily struggles for food and ongoing malnutrition. Her mother tried her best but knew she would never have enough.
Just when Rehena was becoming resigned to her future as a young bride, she heard about Islamic Relief’s new orphan sponsorship programme. This programme, Alternative Orphan Family Sponsorship Programme through Sustainable Livelihood, helps orphans through supporting their family. Rehena’s mother was given interest-free loans and training to start a business, was offered support through a local self-help group, and a monthly allowance was put aside so Rehena could go to school.
Every year, 15 million girls are married despite legally being children. According to the USA’s International Center for Research on Women, a third of girls in the developing world are married before the age of 18 and one in nine are married before the age of 15. In Bangladesh, 66 per cent of girls are married before they turn 18.
Rehena, 14, has avoided that fate. She now eats three healthy meals a day and is planning a future as a nurse.
“I wish to become a nurse and serve the people who do not get proper medical care,” she said.