How Moriam Broke the Cycle of Poverty

Published on
January 26, 2024 at 2:33:00 PM PST January 26, 2024 at 2:33:00 PM PSTth, January 26, 2024 at 2:33:00 PM PST

Poverty Steals Moriam’s Childhood

One day, Moriam was playing with her friends when her father called her to come and meet a new family that was visiting. Obediently, Moriam complied. Little did she know that the man she met that day would become her husband at the unimaginable age of just 14 years old.

Moriam had to drop out of school to become an older man’s bride. She had to stop her childhood games and take the full responsibilities of a wife onto her slim shoulders. She had to leave her home and family when she was just a child.

In Bangladesh, 51 per cent of girls are married before they turn 18 and 15 per cent are married before their 15th birthday—just like Moriam. 

While no two communities are identical, there is a common thread that runs through the prevalence of child marriage across the globe—poverty. In Bangladesh, specifically, 74 per cent of women between the ages of 20 to 24 who were married before the age of 18 are from the lowest income households. Moriam’s home was no exception. 

She has five siblings and her father simply could not afford to feed, house, and educate all six of his children. Child marriage was a culturally acceptable way for him to ensure Moriam was taken care of that also allowed him to provide for his remaining five children. Was it what he actually wanted to do? No one asked him.

Just like no one asked Moriam what she wanted.

Facing a Critical Choice

She went to live with her new husband, Belal, in a rural, farming community where Belal worked as a sharecropper and the sole earner in their new family. 

That first year, when she was still 14, Moriam got pregnant for the first time. Ill-equipped to even manage her period, much less pregnancy, she suffered urinary problems and malnutrition. But she didn’t have enough money to see a doctor, so the suffering continued. 

This is the story of many adolescent girls in Bangladesh who are married off as teens because of poverty. Nearly five in 10 child brides give birth before the age of 18. There’s no way Moriam could have been prepared at her age for what it takes to be a mother. 

But Moriam survived and went on to have a second daughter. Eventually the two children started school, but poverty was their constant companion.

Moriam shares how difficult it was to provide an education on top of everything else her girls needed: “Since I had no skills to generate income and pay for my children’s education, I always struggled with their tuition fees and reading materials. At one stage, I thought about getting my [eldest] daughter married and relieving myself from additional responsibilities.”

After everything she’d gone through, how could Moriam even think of marrying off her own daughter? She explains her brutal reality with keen insight and deep compassion, “I was feeling so helpless; perhaps my father felt the same when I was a teenager.”

Moriam with her two daughters, Tanisa (7 years) and Sanjida (14 years)—they'll both grow up at home and finish their schooling.

Moriam breaks the cycle of poverty

Mercifully, before it came to that, Moriam connected with FH Bangladesh staff who had begun working in her community. They gave her options. 

“I joined a [women’s] health group in 2016 as a Leader Mother. Gradually, I started to learn about the benefits of maintaining hygiene, preventing child marriage, and the importance of nutritious food. I was also fortunate to participate in [FH] sewing training.”

With her training, Moriam started to generate an income and change her community’s attitudes toward girls and women. She chose not to marry off her teenage daughter, and broke the cycle of poverty. 

She stayed true to what she knew in her heart all along, “No girl should have child marriage.”

While working with groups like Moriam’s, FH staff began to see that women in her community were reluctant to talk about menstruation and that girls routinely missed school during their periods. As they listened to women like Moriam, the staff began to unravel the causes. 

“Community women consider menstruation as a taboo,” she explains, “and buying pads from pharmacies or open shops is embarrassing to them. Moreover, their price is so expensive, we could not afford them.”

Cultural taboos and lack of information led to silence and suffering for many women. Girls who had become mothers when they themselves were just teenagers couldn’t explain to their daughters how to care for their bodies. They used ripped up old clothing to manage the bleeding, an unsanitary practice that produced significant health problems. 

But, now, that’s changing. 

Through health groups like the one Moriam leads, women are getting the information they need to manage their own health and teach their daughters. In their tailoring training, Moriam and the other participants also learned how to make local, affordable, and reusable sanitary pads. 

Moriam and her sewing group learn to make affordable, reusable, sanitary pads that will improve women’s health and keep girls in school during their periods. 

“Now girls can easily buy from my doorstep with a minimum price,” Moriam says, delighted. “I believe this will save them from embarrassment and also motivate them to use it. The training raised awareness of the importance of using sanitary napkins and remaining healthy during menstruation.” 

The way girls experience their periods is being transformed—they can now go to school all month long without period interruptions!

A Turn in the Road: Moriam Transforms her Community

Moriam has become a strong anti-child marriage advocate in her community as well as a champion for ending period poverty. 

She says, “I am fortunate that I know how to take care of my daughters and also other girls in the community. I share my experience with them and explain the harmful effects of unhygienic menstruation and child marriage. All girls should be able to take care of themselves physically and mentally. I strongly reckon that providing low cost pads to the adolescents and women in the community will reduce child marriage and will improve school attendance rates.” 

Through Moriam’s story, you can see how the cycle of poverty is more like a tangled web of many different interlocking threads. It’s not always a straight line from “in poverty” to “out of poverty”. It’s a journey, with twists and turns. 

For Moriam, the first step to getting out of poverty was to reconcile relationships with others and herself—she joined a women’s health group where, together, they learned about their own bodies and health without shame, without fear. They began to support each other. Together, they took tailoring training that addressed their economic poverty by giving them a way to make money and help support their children. 

These steps led to another amazing turn out of poverty—Moriam began to show the next generation that they don't have to make their parents' mistakes.

She taught her own daughters and other teen girls about the dangers of early child marriage, and about their personal health. She also gave them practical support to stay in school—affordable pads. 

The result? More girls are staying in school and saying no to child marriage! Their opportunities for a brighter, healthier future free from poverty are growing.

Together, Moriam and her community are breaking the cycle of poverty and creating a new future for their children. 

Will you help more women like Moriam break the cycle of poverty? 

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Moriam and other women taking tailoring training that would transform their own lives, and the lives of the other women and girls in their community.