Janina Jaruzelski Remarks at USAID Human Rights Champion Awards Ceremony

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Assalamu aleikum, nomoshkar, and good morning.

We are here today to celebrate our 2015 Human Rights Champions.  On behalf of USAID, I am delighted to be here and delighted to see all of you here to honor people from communities all over Bangladesh who have distinguished themselves in the fight against domestic violence, child marriage, dowry and other forms of human rights abuse.

I congratulate the winners of today’s awards. You are role models for your upazilas and districts. You are also shining examples to your colleagues throughout Bangladesh – and indeed to the whole country – of what can be accomplished through courage, commitment and high moral principle. You are living proof that individuals – brave, committed individuals with energy and ideas – can and do make a difference. Your individual stories also illustrate that talented, committed individuals can make an even greater impact when they work in partnership with others.

USAID has supported the Protecting Human Rights program since 2011 because of human rights champions like you.  You are overcoming great odds through your important work and truly making a difference in your communities.

In recent years, Bangladesh has made many important strides. Bangladesh has laws to prevent domestic violence and protect domestic violence survivors. Through the commitment and leadership of the Ministry of Women’s and Children’s Affairs, Bangladesh is now pursuing a National Action Plan to Prevent Violence against Women and Children.

The Honorable Prime Minister made an important commitment at the Girl’s Summit, which took place last summer in London. The government, quite admirably, has undertaken initiatives to revise, modernize and strengthen the existing law – a law that dates back to 1929. We all hope that it will be passed into law very soon.

We are pleased that the government has reemphasized its commitment to the age of 18 as the legal age of marriage for girls. We are hopeful that counterproductive language allowing early marriage with parental consent will not be part of the legislation, as this might quite unintentionally undermine the new law’s effect.

We are glad that the terribly destructive impact of child marriage on the physical and mental health of girls, on their education and economic opportunities, and on their eventual children are all being increasingly recognized, thanks in part to the work of people like the champions we are honoring today, as well as many others in the room.

Past recipients of this award have gone on to make even greater contributions in their communities. For example, last year, one awardee initiated a union-level investigation into a suicide that tragically resulted from prolonged sexual harassment.  

Another champion went on to stop eight child marriages through his own initiative. And the investigative work of a journalist who won the prize led to the release of a woman from bondage and the prevention of five planned child marriages.

These, and other past winners of the award, have set a high standard of continuing achievement. I am confident that today’s winner will follow in this fine tradition and will go on to make even greater and more impressive contributions than the already outstanding work they’ve done so far. Among you, I see not just today’s but also tomorrow’s  leaders in eliminating violence against women and other violations of human rights. It is you – and people like you – whose continued effort will ensure that human rights and true equality become a reality for all men and women in your communities and throughout the country.   

So in closing, I applaud you, I thank you, and I encourage you to continue this important work.  We will follow your achievements in the future with great interest.  Equally, if not more important, your peers and your communities will – I hope and believe – follow your excellent examples in fighting to uphold human rights.

Congratulations and thank you very much. Onek dhonnobad!

Dhaka, Bangladesh
Issuing Country