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Courageous Voice Honoree and former Tahirih client, Moly, stood on stage at Tahirih’s 7th Annual Houston Gala before 400 guests to tell her story of not settling for the path of least resistance when she was almost married at 17 to a man she didn’t choose.

“My biggest wish is for other girls like me to have hope. I remember what it’s like to feel out of control of your own life. I remember what it’s like to dread the days, weeks, months in front of you. And now, I remember what it’s like to see an open door and walk through it – although uncertain – toward freedom.”

Moly was born in Bangladesh, where 54% of girls are married before the age of 18. From an early age, Moly was aware of her country’s cultural traditions surrounding marriage, but she was simply too young to understand how deeply it would impact her. Instead, she had what felt like a normal childhood; she attended school, did her homework, and watched TV with her brother.

But as she entered her teen years, Moly was given extensive household responsibilities like doing the laundry, cooking, and cleaning – domestic tasks that were not expected of her brother, but were instead relevant to being a wife and mother.

Moly felt uneasy when her parents talked about her wedding, but she was able to brush those concerns aside at age 11 when her family moved from Bangladesh to Texas. Moly was excited about moving to the United States, and was eager to make new friends in a new city. But being in the U.S. didn’t protect Moly from facing forced marriage, and she soon realized her parents’ plans were still in full effect: She was to return to Bangladesh for her wedding ceremony when she turned 17. Her husband would be a distant family friend and 11 years her senior.

At just 16 years old, Moly was faced with two options: marry a man she did not choose, or refuse to do so and be disowned by her family and lose the only support system she had ever known. Despite Moly’s pleading, her family moved forward as planned, going so far as to book the flights to Bangladesh for the wedding ceremony.

But Moly knew one thing: she did not want to marry this man, or any man, against her will.

Horrified by the reality of her situation and feeling she had nowhere to turn, Moly’s grades began to slip. Luckily, she was able to confide in a teacher at school whom she trusted. Determined to prevent a student from being married against her will, Moly’s teacher began contacting every organization she could think of, and was finally put into contact with Tahirih’s Forced Marriage Initiative based in Falls Church, Virginia.

Recognizing the danger of Moly’s impending wedding date and her drastically escalating home life, Tahirih worked fast to safety plan with Moly and connect her to resources in Texas that could help her escape, including a local FBI office and a host family.  Knowing she might never see her family again, Moly made the difficult decision to move out of her family home and away from a future as a child bride. She was only 17 years old.

Despite the challenges she faced, Moly graduated from high school early. Now, she’s pursuing a degree in photojournalism, has a job, a boyfriend (of her own choosing), and is enjoying the life she has chosen to lead. Moly represents thousands of women in the United States that are effected by forced and child marriage. She stands as a pillar of strength, courage, and hope for all who are denied the right to choose whether, when, and whom to marry.