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Plan Bangladesh House # CWN (B) 14 Road 35 Gulshan 2 Dhaka 1212 Bangladesh Tel: +880 2 9860 167


: Tony Michael Gomes Director Communications and Public Relation

Having skills is important, but equally important is to have passion. Bernice Wong, the photographer of this publication, combines in herself both skills and passion in equal measure. The result is a collection of some memorable photographs that will move you both intellectually and emotionally. The publication presents six photo stories, each depicting the life of a young mother, her struggles and achievements, her vulnerability and strength. In a way this is a celebration of the young women's indomitable spirits in the face of innumerable odds. We, at Plan, are promoting the same spirit through our global campaign 'Because I Am A Girl'. I also must mention that Bernice Wong did this project free of charge. What inspired her, and brought her all the way from Singapore, was her passion for photography and also for her strong commitment to the cause Plan is fighting for - girls' empowerment. As you can see, Bernice’s feeling for the cause comes across convincingly through her photographs. Plan Bangladesh is pleased to have worked with Bernice Wong and make this publication a reality.

Photographs : Bernice Wong Shu Fen Special thanks : Dr. Hrishikesh Sarker Programme Unit Manager, Nilphamari Programme Unit Design and Production : Expressions Ltd

Mingming Remata-Evora Country Director, Plan Bangladesh

Disclaimer: Plan is committed to ensuring the security, privacy and dignity of all the children that we work with. All copyrights© reserved. No part of this publication/photo may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means without prior permission of Plan Bangladesh. Please email for more information.

Bernice Wong is a young, aspiring social-

documentary photographer from Singapore. A keen sense of adventure and the love for story-telling has seen her document a wide variety of tales that have previously not received the attention these merited. This includes capturing the lives of young, hopeful Nepali students studying in a forgotten public school to expanding the narrative surrounding migrant workers in Singapore beyond stale stereotypes as well as documenting the initiation of young boys into formal monkhood in Hsipaw. As she goes on to hone her craft, she hopes that her photography will be a platform for untold and unheard stories. It is her humble and modest wish that these visual narratives go on to convey empathy, awareness and even maybe inspire action.

AGE matters ! in marriAGE - photo evidences created by Bernice Wong
Afroza - A Struggler Rajbanu - Compromises with Life Rani - Loves to Live Rujina - A Fallen Petal Shefali - Wrapped with Sufferings Sherina - Still Hopeful 02 12 22 32 42 52

A Struggler
Afroza is 17 years old. She had just given birth to a pair of twins some 60 days ago. She’s one of the many young mothers in Bangladesh and she has a strong message to all the girls out there. “Do not put a premature end to your childhood through child marriage or motherhood. I wish everybody would be self-sufficient and established first or they would suffer the same fate as me.”

After delivering her first child, she lost consciousness only to wake up to more labour pain, and the surprising news of a second baby making its way out. “You mean at 16 years old, I was carrying two babies in my body? My body is so small, I don't know how I did it.”, she expressed.

On good days, Afroza could finish this plate food. More often than not, she struggled to. She attributes this to the loss of appetite as well as the fear of vomiting.

“I feel inadequate as a mother. I cannot provide for my babies enough.” Afroza shared her struggles as a young mother. Among which, she cited difficulty in breastfeeding both her children due to the lack of breast milk.

“Kooritehboorinoi, bisheh-argeh bi eh noi” – which loosely translates to “do not get married before 20, or you will feel like an aged woman”. Looking back at a photo taken in 2010, she noticed how much her young body has weathered through marriage and pregnancy.

“If none of these happened to me, I would be in college now. I would have a free life. Now, I stay home to cook. That is my life.”

Compromises with Life
Rajbanu had her first daughter when she was barely 14 years old. Since then, she has been suffering from uterine prolapse.

At a tender age of 21, Rajbanu is already mother to four daughters. Her husband is a day labourer in Dhaka and comes home only every 2-3 months. When asked about the multiple roles she plays, she responded "It is hardwork but they are my children. I have to wake up at 6 am and work all day until midnight. But I have no choice. If my marriage did not take place, I can study. Now I have so many duties, I can only stay at home. I don't go out, because I can't".

Rajbanu delivered her four daughters on this mat, in her home. At that very spot.

Rajbanu with the local dai (traditional birth attendant) who had helped with all her children. The dai shared that she delivers an average of 5-7 babies weekly, and that at least half of them are for girls under the age of 18.

Rajbanu has been living with uterus prolapse for 7 years. "When I do hard work or carry anything heavy, it feels like my uterus is falling out (of my vagina). It is very uncomfortable and feels weird, but when it happens, I try to sleep it away". *Uterine prolapse can happen during childbirth or difficult labor and delivery. This occurs when the muscles which hold the uterus in place weaken or damage and cause the uterus to fall into the vaginal canal.

Uterine prolapse has affected Rajbanu’s quality of life significantly. Slightly laborious work like pumping the well makes her feel uncomfortable, but she has learned to live and accept this discomfort.

Loves to Live
Rani and her husband have been trying for a baby since she got married at 11 years old. It has been 7 years and she is now a mother to a four-month old baby. However, she was put in a life-threatening situation during delivery. At 18, she could have lost her life in childbirth.

Rani is only 18 years old, but the ID card has been doctored to say otherwise. This is how people play the system; how they get their child who is under 18 (legal age for marriage) to get 'legally' married. Rani was married out of the family at age 11.

"Actually, I felt very stressed too. I have been trying for a baby for 7 years. So this time, when I was expecting, I felt worried for the baby. I had so much expectation to meet but I am only 18".

Due to birth complications, Rani passed out for two days. She had to undergo blood transfusion as well, because of the massive blood lost during delivery.

She has not fully recovered ever since, citing dizzy spells, general body weakness and swollen feet.

"I'm very happy now, to have my husband and family's support. I know they love me a lot and did their best to save me when I was in great pain. Money wasn't on their mind. But, I know (it was very dangerous and), I am very lucky to be alive. Not everyone would be". (from L to R : husband, Rani, step mother-in-law, father-in-law with 4 month old baby in tow)

A Fallen Petal
Rujina is 16 years old. She got married at 12, and had a baby at 14.

She loves attending school and still speaks fondly of her time there. But she now has to relinquish that as her role as a mother and housekeeper supercedes other “auxiliary” roles like student or child. School is now increasingly an unfamiliar and impossible dream.

“I was in class 5 - like them. I came home one day, and my parents said that I was going to stop school to get married. What could I do?” Rujina’s teachers and neighbours had tried to dissuade her parents, but to no avail.

“Rujina used to attend school regularly. She stopped her studies in class 5. She was a very good student – outspoken and did well in class. It is such a loss for her and us when she had to discontinue her education because of marriage”, expressed Rujina’s headmaster.

“Everybody’s life is like a flower”. “A flower because it is beautiful, holy and innocent”, Rujina shared, “but if you choose to pluck it before it grows and blossom, all would be lost.” She had used this analogy to describe the impact of child marriage and adolescent motherhood on young girls.

Resuming school and returning to her first love will be an elusive dream. Rujina resolves never to let her own child be prematurely robbed of her education in the same way.

Wrapped with Sufferings
Shefali has been suffering from fistula since the birth of her first child. It has been a long, painful and shameful five years for her. *Fistula occurs as result of birth complications when the unborn baby presses against the birth canal for a prolonged period. This causes the blood flow to be cut and damages the nerves and tissue in the area. This is especially problematic and occurs to young girls because their pelvis and bone structure are not developed enough to support child birth.

Shefali got married at age 12, and had her first daughter when she was 14 years old. Unfortunately, that child had only survived for 3 days. Her next two children suffered the same tragic fate. Now, at 22 years old, she finally gave birth to her first surviving child.

She suffers from chronic and acute pain in the anus before passing motion. Her bowel movement is also irregular due to her condition. “When I am in pain, I cannot do anything but to squat. It helps a little bit, but it still hurts. I cannot sit down or lie down, it would make things worse”.

Shefali feels her body getting weaker and weaker by the day. She is constantly fatigued and has lost interest in the everyday activities. On bad days, she is unable to muster enough strength to move around. “I just lie down on my bed and watch the activities outside.”

She has tried various forms of treatment after consulting several doctors so far but none have been effective. Currently, she has been taking medicine from the kobiraj (traditional healer who uses ayurvedic medicine) for 2 years, but she sees no improvement in her condition.

Shefali shuts herself at home most of the time as isolation provides a temporary solace from the stigma and public shaming engendered by her condition. *Fecal incontinence, and the accompanying odour, creates a social stigma for people suffering from anal fistula. This doubly compounds their plight.

Still Hopeful
Sherina is 24 years old but has already gone through 11 pregnancies. 6 miscarriages and 5 neonatal deaths later, she has decided to adopt a child instead.

Fetal Death medical reports from the Jaldhaka Upazilla Health Complex and Rangpur Medical College. These haunting words on the medical report have become routinal for Sherina.

“Each time it (fetal deaths) happened, there was so much sorrow in my heart. I sit in my house and I cry to myself.”

"It is my bad luck. Maybe I have problems with my body? I don't know either. I felt very sad and I cried a lot. But I think this is my fate and only Allah knows." Daily prayers became part of Sherina's coping mechanism.

Initially, Sherina’s parents and relatives had bought clothes for her child each time she was pregnant. She has since given away most of them, but still remains hopeful and has decided to keep some for the future.

Right now, Sherina is very happy with her adopted child. She has decided to let her body, battered from 11 pregnancies, take a break. She has expressed her desire to try for another child in 2015.

A girl who has completed her education is ...
...less likely to experience violence or marry and have children while she is still a child herself. ...more likely to be literate, healthy and survive into adulthood, as are her children. ...more likely to reinvest her income back into her family, community and country. …more likely to understand her rights and be a force for change. The power of this is astonishing. It saves lives and transforms futures, releasing the real potential of girls and their communities. For Plan Bangladesh the focus of the BIAAG campaign is to ‘Stop Child Marriage’. Child Marriage is a huge problem in Bangladesh, putting girl children in danger of serious health hazard, increasing infant mortality or children with poor health and of course keeping girls and women from taking part in development process. Through the campaign Plan Bangladesh seeks to get the issue on top of the national development agenda.

What is BIAAG all about?
‘Because I Am A Girl (BIAAG)’ is a 5-year global campaign initiated by Plan across all the 68 countries Plan works in. The campaign aims to support four million girls to get the education, skills and support they need to move themselves from poverty to opportunity. Globally, one in three girls around the world is denied an education by the daily realities of poverty, discrimination and violence. Every day, young girls are missing out on an education, forced into marriage and subjected to violence.

That equates to some 75 million girls out of education globally. Not only is this unjust. It’s also a huge waste of potential with serious global consequences. Supporting girls’ education is one of the single best investments we can make to help end poverty.