With 65 percent of its girls married before the age of 18, Bangladesh has been identified as having the world’s highest rate of child marriages for girls younger than 15, according to the 2016 World Report by Human Rights Watch. Unbeknownst to many, an Adventist group is among the key non-governmental organizations in Bangladesh steadily addressing this troubling issue.
The “Child Rights and Protection” (CRP) initiative of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Bangladesh recently provided awareness and education training for Adventist boarding school principals on November 1 at the Bangladesh Adventist Union Mission in Dhaka. With a focus on child abuse and child marriage prevention, the goal was to help principals further spread prevention messages and methods to their staff and community leaders.
The overall goal of CRP is to reach communities through Adventist schools.
Some might consider it a timely response to the October 27 launch of the “Child Helpline 1098” by the prime minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina. The service is a free, national, 24-hour helpline for children who are in danger or adults who want to report a case of child abuse. With what is considered a revolutionary move in the country, Hasina also encouraged greater awareness for the protection of children.
However, before the creation of the helpline, CRP has quietly forged a path with its extensive training and resources. Since its inception in 2014, CRP coordinator Ofelia Raksham and her two staff, Rancy Biswas and Rony Sircar, have diligently worked to create inroads among Adventist boarding schools and churches, especially in rural areas where high poverty levels and strong cultural traditions that have contributed to higher incidences of child abuse and marriage. Due to the high community regard for Adventist education, the Church’s boarding schools have a unique opportunity to use their influence to spread awareness and education regarding children’s issues.
CRP staff encourage schools to work with local leaders to provide activities in honor of worldwide advocacy days for children such as the Stop Child Marriage Day, which was observed on September 29. On Stop Child Marriage Day, Adventist schools hosted community activities such as debates, parades and discussion groups.
As CRP continues to build on its training and advocacy work, the dedicated team believes that one day their message will spread throughout communities across Bangladesh. They hope people will associate Adventists with those who speak out against tragedies such as child marriage and abuse with compassion, education and perseverance.
CRP is a part of the Adventist Church’s Bangladesh Children’s Sponsorship Services, which is under the umbrella of Bangladesh Union Mission through the donor agency of Asian Aid Australia.