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Child wearing hijab, looking at the camera.
July 2023

Girls - not brides

Childhood lost

Parvina's story

“My name is Parvina, I’m a Rohingya Muslim from Myanmar.

“My father died when I was young. When my mother remarried, living with my stepfather was tough, so I came to Bangladesh with my uncle when I was nine years old.”

Parvina never got the chance to go to school. In Bangladesh, from the age of nine and for the next four years she worked as a domestic worker for a family. They didn’t pay her – but promised to look after her and find her a husband. They didn’t. The next family she worked for paid her 2,000 taka (about £20) a month, but she had to work day and night. It was too much for her.

Hoping for safety and stability. . .

When many Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in 2017 because conflict broke out in Myanmar, Parvina moved into the refugee camp because she wanted to be with her people. There, she met a boy from Myanmar who was four years older than her.

“I shared my struggles with him. He told me, ‘I will live my life with you.’ I thought – if I get married, I will have peace then, and I will have shelter,” Parvina explains.

A child and their mother walking through the refugee camp.
Life in a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar.

So at just 15 years old Parvina got married. She soon became pregnant.

“I was still a child. I did not have self-confidence,” she remembers.

A World Vision worker at the refugee camp heard about her difficulties and provided support. She took her to the hospital for regular check-ups and brought her nutritious food.

“I gave birth in my shelter. When I gave birth, my mother-in-law, a midwife, and my husband were there to support me and take care of me.”

A baby looking at her mother.
Teenage mum, Parvina, with her baby.

But life was tough for her as a new mum. She couldn’t get a household food ration card because she didn’t have documentation to prove she was married – she’d married illegally under the age of 18. Instead of living a better life of safety and stability, she was forced into poverty and insecurity. And she came to realise how much she had missed out on by getting married and having a baby while still a child herself.

Looking back, she has regrets: “I was not mature enough to get married. If I hadn’t got married, I could have enjoyed my life.

“My wish for other girls is for them to get married after they are 18, when they are mature. I wish a better life for them.

“If you want to stop early marriage, you can . . . organise meetings and invite girls along with their parents and speak with them. If you speak about the effects of early marriage . . . and how child brides suffer, maybe they will understand and think about it before they get married.”

A baby in a cot, while her mother gives her a rattle toy.
Life is tough for new mum, 16-year-old Parvina.

Child brides and gender inequality

For many young refugee girls, getting married seems to be the only way to survive.

Although Parvina got married willingly, believing it would lead to a better life for her, child marriage usually involves a younger girl and an older man, who may be violent towards her. Girls can be forced into marriage because of poverty; for their own perceived protection in situations like natural disasters or conflict; because they aren’t seen as equal to boys; and often because they are felt to be a financial burden. Girls are often put under pressure to get married against their will. Many may run away; some may even attempt suicide.

In refugee camps such as those in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, instances of sexual violence are common when girls go to collect water. Walking miles to get to the nearest water point creates fear and insecurity for girls and their parents. The parents’ response is often to marry them off to protect them from further violence and to protect the family’s honour.

The issue of child marriage is complex. It is closely linked with both poverty and insecurity, and is worsened by conflict and displacement, which is why the numbers are so high in refugee communities. The Covid pandemic created a new fear and caused the rates to rise sharply.

An end to child marriage

With your support, World Vision is making a long-term commitment to tackling child marriage. We are doing this by working with parents and communities to challenge the attitudes and social patterns that encourage gender inequality and child marriage. We are also educating and equipping girls, and boys, with life skills so that they can speak up for themselves and have a say in decisions about their futures.

Thanks to the generosity of people like you, a number of Safe Zones have been created for women and girls at the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar. Here are some personal stories of change:


Tackling the issues of poverty, supporting livelihoods, providing health and wellbeing services, clean water and sanitation, and education, will all contribute significantly to the reduction of child marriages.

In the midst of conflict, displacement, natural disasters, famine and global pandemic, your ongoing support makes it possible to reach children and families with what they most need, helping them survive, recover from trauma and build a future.

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