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After Disqualification, Ex-Miss World Bangladesh Reveals She Is a Child Marriage Survivor

Jannatul Nayeem Avril is a model and biker. Screenshot via YouTube video uploaded by Cox'sbazar Riderz Club

A beauty queen in Bangladesh who was dethroned for hiding the fact that she was divorced is winning praise and sympathy after revealing she was under the legal age of marriage during the wedding in question.

Jannatul Nayeem Avril , a model and biker, was crowned the 2017 Lovello Miss World Bangladesh on September 29. She was supposed to represent the country in the 67th Miss World beauty pageant to be held in late 2017, but on October 4, the organizers stripped Avril of the title for concealing information about her past marriage. The first runner-up Jessia Islam was handed the crown instead.

The controversy started during the September 29 competition evening when another participant was announced as winner instead of Avril, in disregard of the judges’ decision. Later in the event, Avril was declared the winner, and the previous declaration was called a mistake.

Social media erupted, with users claiming that the organizers manipulated the selection. The situation took another turn when an investigative news report revealed that Avril had been married for three months in 2013 and is now divorced, which she had not disclosed. Her attempts to conceal the truth, and not the sheer fact that she is divorced, were what led pageant authorities to disqualify her.

Then in a Facebook post, published perhaps suitably, only a week before the world marked International Day of the Girl Child, Avril explained that the divorce stemmed from a match arranged by her parents and one that was not legal as she was only 16 at the time. She said she was the one to break off the marriage, and then she went on to establish herself as a model.

UNICEF defines child marriage as “a formal marriage or informal union before age 18.” Among Asian countries, Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of marriage under the legal age, which is 18 for girls and 21 for boys. In many cases, the weddings are arranged by parents in which the girl child has little to say.

In this context and considering Bangladesh's conservative society, many deemed Avril's actions to be brave. Abul Hasnat Milton, a Bangladeshi expat writer based in Australia, wrote on Facebook:

[…] আমি শুধু এভ্রিলকে একটা বাহবা দিতে চাই তার সাহসের জন্য। মাত্র ষোল বছর বয়সে তাকে ‘বাল্যবিবাহের’ শিকার হতে হয়েছিল। তরুণী তার প্রতিবাদে সেই বয়সেই ঘর ছেড়েছে। শুধু তাই নয়, নানান প্রতিকূলতার বিরূদ্ধে দাঁড়িয়ে নিজেকে গড়েছে। আত্মবিশ্বাসী, সাহসী একটা মেয়ে বাইকে চড়ে শহরময় ঘুরে বেড়াচ্ছে, দৃশ্যটির কথা ভাবতেই আমি মুগ্ধ হই।

আপনাকে অভিবাদন এভ্রিল।

[…] I just want to give kudos to Avril for her courage and bravery. She is a victim of ‘child marriage’. But the young women protested that and left her marriage. She fought against many odds and overcame many challenges to prepare herself as a successful woman. A confident and brave girl riding her bike in Dhaka city is a great thing to watch.

Many congratulations Avril.

Blogger and activist Ajanta Deb Roy also lauded Avril's courage:

তার জীবনে ঘটে যাওয়া বাল্যবিয়ে নামক একটা দুর্ঘটনার কারণে ‘মিস ওয়ার্ল্ড বাংলাদেশ’ প্রতিযোগিতায় যোগ দেয়ার তথাকথিত যোগ্যতা হয়তো সে হারিয়েছে কিন্তু আমার চোখে মেয়েটার সাহস আর আত্মবিশ্বাসই তার সবচাইতে বড় সৌন্দর্য্য।

She may be disqualified from the “Miss World Bangladesh” competition because of her accidental past marriage, but in my eyes, her courage and confidence is the real beauty.

Many commenters, however, criticized Avril for hiding the information about her marriage. University student Tasdidul Haque did not agree with Avril's choice to conceal her past, but condemned the trolling directed at her:

আচ্ছা বিয়ের ব্যাপার টা লুকায় সে ভুল করছে আপনি তার ডিস্কোয়ালিফিকেশন দাবি করতেই পারেন কিন্তু তার ছবি আপ্লোডাইয়া রসায় রসায় ক্যাপশন দেওয়াটা লেমনেস। একটা ১৬বছরের মেয়েকে এসএসসির সময়ে ইলিগ্যালি জোর করে বাল্য বিয়ে দেয়ে হলো সে সেই বিয়ে থেকে নিজেকে মুক্ত করে পরিবারের কোনো সাপোর্ট ছাড়াই এই স্টেজ অব্দি পৌছুছে, দেশ সেরা লেডী বাইকার সে, এসব আপ্নদের চোখে পড়েনা?

She made a mistake by hiding the information about her past marriage. So you can criticize her. But trolling her with distorted images or memes is lame. You seem to have been blind to the facts that she was a victim of a child marriage and became a successful model and a biker without any support from the family.

Actress Jyotika Jyoti defended Avril characterization of herself as “unmarried”:

এভ্রিল দাবী করছে সে অবিবাহিত, আমি তার দাবীর সাথে একমত। একটা বিয়ের ছবি কিংবা জোর করে দেয়া বিয়ের টিকে থাকা ১৫ দিন দিয়ে একজনের ঘাড়ে বিবাহিত দায় চাপানো যায়না ।

Avril commented that “she is unmarried”, I agree with her. A forced marriage or the wedding pictures do not prove that she was married with consent.

Avril came from a rural area, but has become a successful model and a brand ambassador for an international motorbike company. Educator Rasheda Rawnak Khan called it an inspirational story:

অবাক হয়ে লক্ষ্য করলাম, তার দুচোখ ভরা স্বপ্ন! হাজারও উচ্চশিক্ষিত মেয়ের ভেতরে যে স্বপ্ন দেখার সাহস নেই, এই ‘সুন্দরী’ হতে আসা মেয়েটির ভেতরে তা আছে|

I was surprised to see that she had eyes full of dreams. Many educated and privileged women do not dare to dream out of the box. This aspiring beauty pageant winner had that resolve.

After the news of the disqualification, Avril commented on a Facebook Live post that she will work against child marriage:

আমি আপনাদের এভ্রিল, আপনাদের চোখে চ্যাম্পিয়ন ছিলাম, চ্যাম্পিয়ন আছি এবং আপনাদের ভালোবাসায় থাকবো।
যতদিন পর্যন্ত বেঁচে আছি, বাল্যবিবাহ নিয়ে আমি কাজ করবো, যাতে আর কোন মেয়ের স্বপ্ন না ভাঙ্গে।

I am your Avril, was a champion in your eyes, will be the champion with your love. I will work to prevent child marriage, all my life, so no other girls’ dreams are shattered.

She already founded a charity called Avril Foundation for this reason.

The Miss World 2017 beauty pageant will take place in November 2017 in China. Jessia Islam will represent Bangladesh.

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