Shiraj is a Bangladeshi barber at the Salon shop I frequent below my apartment in Abu Dhabi.
He was excited today as I waited for him at the shop. As I said, he is the one I go to. And it was okay to wait because his colleagues told me he will be back anytime soon from shopping since he was going back home, to Chittagong.
As any expatriate will tell you in the UAE, despite all the glitz and glamour, there is no replacing a trip back home.
Even as I was thinking on the same line as above, Shiraj came huffing and puffing, a small goodie-bag in his hand. The packaging belied any attempt to conceal the contents – gold, in some shape.
I let him cool off, using his own appliances, the beads of sweat pouring in as evidence of the oppressive summer in the UAE. And then he started talking.
Of how he is wanted to buy a bigger ring than the one had got, how he missed out on a big gold chain because he ran short of 130 dirhams (about 40 dollars) and how he had absolutely no money left for the third item on his shopping list – a mobile phone.
And if you thought he was splurging, no, he was not. That shopping list was only for his would-to-be son-in-law.
Yes, he was going home because his daughter was getting married.
“But how old are you?” I asked. “You certainly look younger to me [I am 39 years only!] and you daughter..?”
“She is 15”, Shiraj said.
“But marrying at that age is illegal, right? Even in Bangladesh,” I probed further.
“It is not my call. My wife knows best,” he said with a resigned look, before adding: “Besides it is not safe for girls from about this age, especially in villages in our part of the world. I believe it is the case in India too”.
I could not decide if he had pinched me back for intruding into his personal space or was trying to show me a world which my self-righteous personality could not see.
The next 10 minutes were a blur as I ran the scene of a wedding taking place; a young girl getting married early with dowry provided by a poor man and his possible debt burden; the young lady bearing children early and the vicious cycle in poverty…..
Suddenly a splash of water spray broke me out of my day-dream and I realised the shaving session was ending.
‘Because it is not safe for girls…’ As the words echoed further, the mind summed up the experience and left me with the thought: “If the girl population in countries like Bangladesh and India are prone to crimes like rape, female foeticide and honour killings, are illegal child marriages the only quick-fix solution?
To escape the abyss, is climbing a mountain the only solution? Is it naive to blame the likes of Shiraj for running away from responsibilities, if we can call that? Or is be being practical and child marriage is the most sensible thing to do?
As I got up, clean-shaven, the ugly stubble on my face replaced with such disturbing thoughts and a frown.
But that is no consolation that such state of affairs will remain for some time.
In 2012, according to the Thomson Reuters service TrustLaw, the top 10 worst countries for child marriage, by percentage of women 20-24 years old who are married before they reach 18, are:
1. Niger, 75 percent
2. Chad, 72 percent
3. Mali, 71 percent
4. Bangladesh, 66 percent
5. Guinea, 63 percent
6. Central African Republic, 61 percent
7. Mozambique, 52 percent
8. Nepal, 51 percent
9. Malawi, 50 percent
10. Ethiopia, 49 percent
Also read: As India Grapples with Sexual Violence, Modi Urges Society to Raise Sons Better
Human trafficking in and from Bangladesh
Taslima Nasrin on the current Bangladesh generation
Thanks for the follow