4 November 2015
According to the UN, Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. Women we are working with tell us that climate change is making things worse. Cyclones place huge pressure on already poor families. When parents struggle to feed their children, many feel compelled to give their daughters away in marriage.
The women and girls we met in Bangladesh talk about the dangers they face and how ActionAid is supporting them to tackle them.
Shubarna: "If I can't study then my parents will arrange my marriage"
Shubarna, 13, lives in a village in central Bangladesh where floods make the route to school impassable at least twice a year. She fears that if she stays out of school for too long, it will be difficult for her parents to justify her single status.
Thankfully, Shubarna hasn't stopped studying. When she can't get to school, she can study at a community hall built by ActionAid, where a local tutor helps Shubarna and her friends continue their education.
"If this child space wasn't here I'd be sat at home unable to study," she said.
Amina: "I want to study, grow big and then I want marry."
Storms and floods have robbed 13-year-old Amina of a secure home. Now they could claim her childhood too.
Amina's flimsy house in Bangladesh has been knocked down time and again by storms. This has placed a huge financial strain upon her parents, who have talked of arranging for her to be married.
"Our home has been destroyed four times by storms," said Amina. "My parents are worried. Sometimes they say if they could marry me or one of my sisters off it would be a relief for them."
So, at an age when she should be thinking only about playing and studying for her future, she could end up a child bride, her dreams of becoming educated and financially independent washed away.
“I don't want to marry young,” said Amina. “I want to study, grow big and then I want marry.”
The World Bank reports that Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. Every year flooding affects a million of its citizens.
In the coastal region where Amina lives, salt water from the Bay of Bengal has been gushing into the fields, ruining homes and poisoning crops. All this has pushed poor families further towards the brink of survival.
Laily: "Climate change is making things worse"
Laily Begum, 39, is a councillor who campaigns against child marriage and is part of an ActionAid-funded women's group. She told us: "We can't grow anything. Children can't go to class. When this happens parents start to see their children as burdens. They think, 'If I can marry one of the daughters off it will be good.'"
During climate disasters, girls could be pressured to marry young and drop out of school, according to a 2009 report by the United Nations Development Programme.
Fatema: "I won't hand my daughter over in marriage"
Fatema dreamed of finishing school, but her hopes were dashed at 13, when her parents arranged her marriage.
"Marrying at such a young age wasn't good for me," said Fatema, now 21. "I had children and it broke my body. I became weaker."
Fatema is determined that her child Janatul will not become a child bride.
"I won't have to do what my parents did," she said. "I won't hand my daughter over in marriage."
After years of struggling in a rented hut that flooded in the monsoon, Fatema was offered a place in a village built by ActionAid and raised on a mud plinth two-and-a-half feet above the highest recorded flood level. Since Fatema moved there, her home has not flooded. She has been able to grow crops and save for her children's future.
Through our work on the ground, we support the most vulnerable women and girls in Bangladesh to survive and adapt to the brutal impact of climate change.
What you can do to help
At the end of November, world leaders are meeting in Paris for crucial talks on tackling climate change. You can help us make sure an international deal puts vulnerable children and women first at the Paris climate talks.
Join us on 29 November in solidarity with all those facing the real and dangerous threat of climate change.