Moni Begum: The Local to Global Advocate

Monday 2 November 2015

Child Marriage in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh 66% girls are forced to get married before they reach the age of 18 which makes the country one of the top three countries in the world that is heavily burdened with child marriage. The pace at which the reduction is taking place needs to change. The effects of child marriage is multi-dimensional and is causing adverse effects to the brides, the mothers, the families and hence the nation. Child marriage robs girls of education, exposes them to health risks, deprives them of their reproductive rights and restrains them from contributing to the society, thereby reaching their full potential. 

Access to Health Care:

Investments in health remain low in Bangladesh. Although there have been significant progress over the years, it is rather unequal. Moni comes from the north-east region of Bangladesh – Sylhet. Child mortality in Bangladesh is much higher than the national average, while facility delivery in Sylhet is only 22.6% which is much lower than national average. This illustrates the barriers to access health facilities in the area where Moni comes from. 

Moni Begum’s Story

From local to national and global level advocacy-Moni Begum is the beacon of hope for Bangladesh, pledging her urges of ending child marriage, increasing access to trained health workers for every mother and child and ending preventable deaths

In a situation as of today, 16-year old Moni Begum is a beacon of hope. With the notion and determination of improving the lives of girl children in Bangladesh, Moni Begum a youth leader of the Sida funded project, attended the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) 70th in New York from the 19th to the 30th of September 2015. Moni met the honorable deputy speaker of the parliament, Fazle Rabbi Miah before her departure for the UNGA. She presented a letter in appreciation of the Governments credible work on achieving MDG 4 and while she also shared a four point ask from the Government for the Post 2015 period.

Moni’s transatlantic voyage was the result of her noteworthy advocacy work for child marriage prevention, ending under 5 deaths by eradicating preventable diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhea, advocating for access to care and her strong motivation for community mobilization and improving community people’s lives through her advocacy.

Based on a rigorous assessment process, she was selected to represent Bangladesh at UNGA 70 amongst 180 other youth leaders in three districts- Kulaura, Satkani and Muladi. Moni was shortlisted in the top 15 and had undergone a detailed assessment process in Dhaka. Once she was selected, she had undergone 7 days of training at the Save the Children office before attending the UNGA and prepared herself.

#LetHerGrow

Moni advocates for ending child marriage with her slogan #LetHerGrow which urges the society to let girls grow in education and reach their full potential with equal opportunities.

Moni attended the UNGA 70 with a slogan which was #LetHerGrow, referring to the need for equitable access to basic services for girls to grow, educate themselves, utilize their potential and contribute to the society. Moni believes that the country can only flourish when girls flourish as well. “Instead of getting married in their teens, girls should be encouraged to grow and educate themselves because they have immense potential in the future Bangladesh,” says Moni, “They need the support of the society and their families to grow with equal opportunity,” 

Prior to leaving for the UNGA, Moni discussed the issues she wanted to place in front of the world leaders with other youths from different schools in Bangladesh. She was also invited by two Radio Stations to speak about the ill-effects of child marriage, Moni’s slogan and UNGA.

Moni Begum’s Experience at the UNGA70

At the UNGA Moni presented her case of ending child marriage in Bangladesh to worldwide delegates including Ban Ki Moon, David Cameron, Malala Yousafzai. She also met 19 other child delegates from around the world.

At the UNGA, Moni had the opportunity to present her case of ending child marriage and demanding access to healthcare and health workers for every mother and child. Alongside, she placed her urge of no child to die from preventable diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhea. Moni pledged her demand to address the rising drowning epidemic in the country. She voiced her urges in front of United Nations’ delegates, civil society representatives and Government officials from all around the world..Moni had undergone a series of training prior to her participation in the UNGA, hence, in the presence of such esteemed dignitaries, Moni spoke confidently about the negative repercussions of child marriage including pregnancy related complicacies for teenage brides, access to healthcare and trained health workers for every mother and child and issues of preventable diseases that lead to under 5 child mortality. 

Moni met UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon twice in two different events. Ban Ki Moon, a few years ago, visited a community clinic in the area that Moni comes from. Moni had the opportunity to meet and speak to the honorable prime minister of United Kingdom David Cameron about the ways of tackling gender inequalities that force many girls into early marriage and early pregnancy and deprive women of the rights to manage their reproductive health. At the same event, Moni met the honorable president of Columbia President Juan Manuel Santos along with US Secretary of State, John Kerry. She also had the opportunity to listen to Malala Yousafzai’s speech addressing the importance of education for a better world at the Opening Ceremony of UNGA.

Moni met and spoke to national and international delegates from all over the world such as UNICEF’s Executive Director Anthony Lake, President of the General Assembly Mogens Lykktoft, Graça Machel of PMNCH, Margaret Chan, Amina Mohammed, Norwegian Prime Minister Solberg, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta, Italian Prime Minister Renzi, H.E. Ms. Peng Liyuan, First Lady of the People’s Republic of China, the Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla and other world leaders. She met 19 other child delegates from countries across the globe including Tanzania, Zambia, Norway, China, Peru, Denmark, Australia, USA and Afghanistan.

Moni Begum’s Key Learnings from the UNGA

Mon is inspired to be an agent of change and like herself, she encourages other youth advocates and worldwide delegates to give their commitment and accountability to make the world a better place.

Moni Begum’s key learning from attending the UNGA is that children are the hopes of tomorrow and they can become the agents of change to create a better world because they are the ones who know their problems the best and can voice them in the most compelling way. However, her most critical take away from the UNGA is that for an effective change to take place, children will require the commitment and accountability of the world leaders and key policy makers such as ministers, policy makers, advocates and etc. In her opinion, the policy makers and world leaders have to support the children, give them their commitment and accountability to make the world a better place.

Moni has learnt about the development issues that many other children face in their countries such as drug trafficking in schools in Mexico, eve teasing and bullying in schools in Italy, lack of quality education in Afghanistan, climate change issues that cause breathing problems for many children across China and more. She has gained much knowledge and awareness regarding the significance of the 17 SDGs and several ways to implement it in partnership. There is a critical role of the politicians and policy makers in adapting the SDGs and creating actions groups in their own countries as required to the need of the country. 

Upon her arrival from the New York to Kulaura, a bus full of her teachers and fellow students from her school along with the Kulaura Association, Local Government of Kulaura and Kulaura Local Market Association welcomed her. Since her return she has been invited by numerous associations where she has been congratulated for her success at the UNGA. Her welcome reception at Kulaura was broadcasted on the National news channel. This opportunity has created a platform for her to work further and create linkages with many stakeholders and individuals together. Moni hopes to work with more youth leaders in her community and the surrounding areas to work towards creating awareness and advocating for reducing child marriage. This exposure has encouraged Moni to work towards her future plans to reach her goals.

Media & Social Media Campaign for the UNGA

Moni’s news was covered in electronic and print media over 90 times in less than a month and reached close to 300 000 people via Facebook. 

A strong social media campaign was put in place starting prior to attending the UNGA where Moni’s activities, campaigns, slogans were documented by the day. Also, the key highlights and challenges in the trip were flagged, such as the key events where Moni Begum delivered her speech in front of significant world delegates were boosted in social media via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. The response to the social media campaign were successful and constructive.  Moni’s posts on Facebook has reached a total of 271648 people. Her tweets with her quotes and videos have been successful in creating further dissemination of information amongst others.

While Moni was at the UNGA, out of the 20 child delegates present from Save the Children from across the globe, she was the only one who had a documentary made on her regarding her story and her campaign by NHK (Japanese International Television). Other than that, there has been over 90 published articles both (electronic and on paper) on Moni Begum and her euphoric and successful journey in leading newspapers of the country such as Dhaka Tribune, New Age, Ittefaq and etc. Moni has been invited to speak at The 12th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP 2015) will take place in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Moni’s slogan #LetHerGrow and her advocacy work on preventable diseases have reached a vast coverage from local to national to global level. Her voice was an act of information and knowledge dissemination and engagement on a local level with community support groups, community leaders, community members, local government, fellow peers, family and friends. Her engagement with the Deputy Speaker of Bangladesh and attending the UNGA have stirred her advocacy and engagement to a national and finally, global level.

Moni Begum’s Outcomes post UNGA

  • Moni received an exponential media coverage that reached 300,000 people on Facebook amongst other social media, 90 paper print and television documentary.
  • Besides media, the Mayor of Kulaura and Local Member of Parliament had personally visited Moni Begum at her residence to congratulate her on her success.
  • The local government recognized her efforts, hosted events for her success and have agreed to support her advocacy work throughout.
  • Moni has been invited by several civil society partners and associations and presented with crests and awards for her outstanding performance.

She has been invited to chair a session on ICAAP conference to talk about child marriage and adolescent health/health access.