When I was a little girl growing up in Bangladesh, my mother would tell me that going to school was okay, but if I didn’t do well, she would marry me off to a rich older man who could take care of me. It is many years later, but those words still affect me.
She wasn’t the only family member trying to marry me off young.
My grandfather had plans for me to marry my first cousin who was 20 years older than me, but he passed away before he could make it happen.
But I couldn’t accept this fate.
When I was young, my family moved to Los Angeles.
Suddenly I was exposed to a different world, that didn’t match my family’s values at home and I began to rebel, upsetting my traditional Bangladeshi Muslim parents.
I couldn't adapt to my family's mindset. There were too many rules. I had to excel in school, avoid boys, learn the Quran and dress conservatively. My mother even threw away the tank tops and shorts I had bought in secret.
I remember the day my uncle said my pants were too tight and that I shamed my family by dating a Hindu boy, l brushed him off, and laughed in his face. But he had much more control over my life than I thought.
When I was 16, my aunt heard of a rich man in his 40s who wanted to marry a young girl. My uncle wanted this marriage to happen.
I was flown to Canada to visit my relatives, thinking I was going on an unexpected vacation. When I reached my aunt's house, she had cooked an elaborate Bengali meal, and I saw a pudgy, old, balding Bangladeshi man sitting across the room. After dinner, my aunt suddenly left me alone with him. The moment we spoke, I knew exactly what was going on. He boasted about the property he owned, family prosperity and how his family had millions of dollars. He then proceeded to ask what I was looking for in a man. I froze.
I've blocked out most of the memories of that day, apart from feeling overwhelmed, sitting in a room full of people trying to decide my life for me. All I remember is keeping the conversation short and leaving my aunt's as quickly as possible. I then ran away from home.
I am one of very few women who was able to get away. Despite it being illegal, Bangladesh has the highest rate of child marriage for girls under the age of 15 in the world. According to UNICEF, 65 per cent of girls are married by their 18th birthday and 29 per cent by the age of 15.