Before starting university in September, Ciara Rooney, 19, volunteered in Bangladesh with Y Care International. Here, Ciara reflects on how these opportunities – going to university, volunteering overseas, making choices about her future – are unlikely to have been open to her if she had grown up in Bangladesh.

Ciara's ICS team wanted children to enjoy coming to school and so organised a sports day. Photo: Ciara Rooney Ciara's ICS team wanted children to enjoy coming to school and so organised a sports day. Photo: Ciara Rooney

I taught English at a small school in Birisiri for children who had dropped out of mainstream education. The school consisted of one wall and a roof outside someone’s house, and could fit no more than 20 small children. It was set up by a local girl who provided each child with a book and a pen. We were there to help teach them the basic level of education they needed to pass their exams to get back into government schools.

Children at Birisiri's informal school learn the English words for the days of the week. Photo: Ciara Rooney

Children at Birisiri’s informal school learn the English words for the days of the week.

Keeping children in school
We also conducted a parent-teacher meeting to tell parents about how their children were getting on and how they could encourage and support them, despite most of them being illiterate themselves.

Bangladesh has made considerable progress in education over the past few years. Since 1980, enrolment in secondary schools has more than tripled, but dropout rates are still a cause for concern. One reason for high drop out rates is child marriage. Although the number of cases has dropped significantly, young girls are still taken out of school by their families and forced into marriage.

Child marriage in Bangladesh
I spoke to girls of all ages in Birisiri, but one conversation I had stood out. One girl explained how she was treated differently from her brothers. She felt she is a burden on the family because she cannot work and create any income. She believed her family want to get her a husband as soon as possible so she can become his responsibility instead. She said, “Being a girl is like a curse.” She was 14 years old.

The acceptance of child marriage in Bangladesh has no doubt decreased, but it still happens, and it is the reason many young girls do not getting the opportunity to look past domestic life.

Child marriage in the UK
I was shocked to read that between 5,000 and 8,000 people are at risk of being forced into marriage every year in England. This shows that child marriage does happen in the UK, but it is not talked about. It is most definitely a subject that people need educating about.

I think they key is spreading awareness to educate more people, encouraging passion and more people getting involved.