2 years ago, Barsha was all set to get married to a 18 years old boy. Barsha was just 14 then. An intervention from the local government authority put a hold to it. Today, Barsha is the Role Model in her 30-strong group of adolescent girls preaching against dowry and child marriage. The Kishori Bahini Project empowers thousands of girls across Bangladesh through targeted adolescent education and opportunity to share ideas and education among themselves socially. The "Kishori Abhijan", which translates to "adventures of an adolescent girl", is a Unicef Project in Bangladesh in partnership with the European Union. The project aims to empower adolescents - especially girls, but also involving boys - to participate meaningfully in social decisions that involve them and the community as a whole.
The legal age of marriage in Bangladesh is 18 for girls, and 21 for boys. Still, more than half of the adolescent girls in the country (mostly in rural regions) are married before the age of 16. It is very common for a girl to drop out from school after marriage, and indulge full time into her new found family. These adolescents also go through higher health risks in terms of early age pregnancy and child birth.
Once these girls quit school, they lose their social network along with it. Their mobility decreases, and so does their opportunity to receive non-formal education. Add to it the fact that these adolescent girls lack adequate knowledge about puberty and adolescent health issues.
The project targets more than a hundred thousand adolescent girls in the country, in 2860 adolescent centers covering 28 of the 65 districts in Bangladesh. As part of the project, rural girls form teams of 30+ members which are further divided into peer groups. They are educated on social issues and life skills-based education like self esteem, negotiation skills, practical business lessons, adolescent health knowledge, reproductive health education, hygiene lectures and so on.
A total 20,000 girls were chosen as peer leaders/opinion leaders who worked to educate other members in the group and reach out to their community with relevant messages. These girls had the opportunity to meaningfully contribute to their society from an early age, and it is safe to say that they have been able to make a successful overall impact.
A total of 3000 centers have been developed where these groups can meet on a regular basis and exchange ideas among themselves. Girls' in those locations are more mobile now and are more willing to travel distance to access education and/or employment opportunities. Ideas generated and/or actions taken at those centers have vastly improved adolescent marriage rate, birth control practice, puberty issues. Girls have been made aware on issues like dowry, acid crime, medical negligence assist and HIV/AIDS. An active livelihood option has greatly increased these girls' social worth and strengthens their argument against early marriage and dowry.
Currently this project is set to cover all other parts of the country. The Unicef project has been a huge success and is currently being tried in other parts of the world, especially in the Africas.