DHAKA - A Bangladeshi girl who escaped being married at the age of 12 and went on to win an international athletics competition said on Monday that girls in the conservative country could "achieve anything" if they overcame their fears.
Ety Khatun, 14, the daughter of a sweet-seller, defied her parents attempts to marry her in 2016 as they struggled to get by in a remote village in western Bangladesh.
On Monday, Khatun won a third gold medal in archery at the South Asian games in Nepal, a rare sporting success for Bangladesh which has yet to land an Olympic medal.
"My parents wanted me to get married. I cried a lot and didn't eat for two days. I forced them to send me to Dhaka to take part in an archery training camp," Khatun told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Nepal.
Muslim-majority Bangladesh has one of the world's highest rates of child marriage, according to the United Nations.
The country has banned the practise and in 2018 launched a phone app to digitally verify the ages of brides and grooms.
Still, more than half of all girls are married before they are 18.
Khatun may have become one of them had she not been spotted by scouts from the Bangladesh Archery Federation.
"We had selected about 60 potential archers from various regions and she was one of them," said national coach Ziaul Hoque.
Smaller in stature than her peers, many underestimated Khatun.
"Not much was expected from her," Hoque said.
But she proved mentally strong, and, in 2018, won bronze at a national archery competition.
"That's when my parents stopped pressurising me to get married," said Khatun.
Today her parents back her and revel in her achievements.
Her father remains the family's sole breadwinner, something Khatun hopes to change.
"(He) has allergy issues and can't work in winters. If something happens to him we don't know what we will do. I hope archery can help me support my family and bring peace to them," she said.
Urging young girls from her village to follow her path she said: "If you work hard, anything is possible. If you are scared and sit back, nothing will work."