Muntasha receiving a warm welcome.

Exeter student tackles plight of child brides in Bangladesh

A student with close ties to Bangladesh has just returned from a research mission to raise awareness of the damaging culture of child marriage.

Muntasha Quddus, in her 3rd year of the University of Exeter Medical School’s Medical Sciences programme, won the £6,918 Davis Peace Project grant while on her Professional Training Year (PTY) at the University of Chicago. During this research placement year, she decided to take on the poignant issue of child marriage in Bangladesh, where her parents were born and where she visits family most years.

Muntasha won the grant with her research proposal entitled Bidai Ballo Bibaho - Goodbye to Child Marriages. She has recently returned from visiting three different schools in rural areas of Bangladesh where child marriage is the norm. She spent a month raising awareness through workshops and talks with the local communities, informing them of the danger that these young girls face. Bangladesh in particular has the fourth highest rate of child marriages in the world – emphasising the need for the project. Around 65% of the girls are married by their 18th birthday and 29% are married by the age of 15.

Child marriages are detrimental to the upbringing of the brides. All hopes of a ‘normal’ childhood are diminished, with the young girls deprived of education while facing domestic violence and poor health conditions.

Muntasha said: “Urgent action needs to be taken to give these young girls a brighter future. I will be focussing on the health implications of these marriages on the children, raising awareness of sexual and reproductive health. Many young girls and parents are unaware of the complications of early pregnancies or unsafe sex. In my studies, I have a particular interest in public health science and I will be putting all my knowledge from my training into practice.”

During her Professional Training Year, Muntasha has been working at the University of Chicago’s Public Health Sciences department, networking and getting hands-on experience in the lab. Throughout her time at Chicago, Muntasha stayed at the International House (I-House), which has an initiative for students whereby they can design their own grassroots summer projects. The I-House is a diverse residential community that allows students and scholars from around the world to live together.

This Davis Projects for Peace Grants encourages students to create and utilise pioneering techniques for engaging participants in conflict resolution, reconciliation, breaking down barriers that cause conflict, and finding solutions for conflict and maintaining peace.

Dr Reza Zamani, Muntasha’s tutor and Director of the Medical Sciences programmes, said: “I’m very proud of Muntasha for showing such fantastic initiative and pursuing a research project which is in line with both her studies and her personal passion. Our Professional Training Year is designed to provide students with a meaningful insight into knowledge-based working environments, and in this case Muntasha has taken full advantage of the opportunities available to her. Muntasha is an extremely hardworking individual and excelled in her project. Last year, she was awarded a prize by FORCE for the best PTY placement which looks into mutational spectrum of arsenic-related non-melanoma skin cancers, which is a growing environmental health issue. A manuscript of her research data has just been submitted to an international peer-reviewed journal for publication for which she is the first author.”

Find out more about Muntasha’s project by following her blog. Additional information about the Davis Projects for Peace is available on the official website.

Date: 26 August 2016

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