Abed said about half of marriages are still below the legal age of 18 but the “age of marriage is rising.”
The early marriage problem is most common in lower income groups because girls have not been wage earners.
“It’s a class thing now — class and income levels,” Abed said.
BRAC began attacking poverty at its roots through education and by creating entrepreneurs within rural villages. BRAC put its emphasis on girls and has started 40,000 schools worldwide now in which 70 percent of students must be girls.
BRAC learned that empowering women by helping them get or create jobs helped reduce poverty and associated problems.
In the 1990s it became evident that people did not just need a meal, they needed to be able to earn their way out of extreme poverty.
“We decided to set up a bank that would provide loans to small and medium enterprises,” Abed said.
Through microfinance, artisans in villages are able to expand into true small business enterprises that allow mostly female entrepreneurs to earn a better way of life.
BRAC started with the rehydration program but has become the largest NGO in the world. It expanded to 10 other countries and has worked to eliminate TB, provide education, microfinance, adolescent development programs and technology interventions in agriculture.
“He (Abed) had no idea it was going to be something on a large scale,” said Mohammad Rezaur Razzak, associate professor and director of BRAC’s Centre for Entrepreneurship Development.
Razzak said poverty is not eliminated through just feeding people.
“You need to teach them to stand on their own feet,” he said.
While BRAC has experienced many failures along the way, the organization has learned from each failure and now reaches out to over 126 million people, 70 percent of which are women. Abed founded the organization to be financially sustainable rather than dependent on donations. Only about 30 percent of funding comes from donations.