Meena, an animated cartoon character, was created by UNICEF at a time when statistics showed that girls in South Asia were deprived of their rights and were vulnerable. To promote girl’s rights, the 1990s were designated the Decade of the Girl Child by the governments of the SAARC countries. The Meena Communication Initiative (MCI) was launched in December 1992 with the first episode of the Meena series “Count your Chickens”, broadcast on Bangladesh Television. MCI contributed to the implementation of the rights of the child, with a special focus on the girl child in order to improve their status and develop their potential by influencing and supporting the forces of social change in South and South East Asia. Since then, Meena has been used as a tool to impart important messages on child rights. By using a mix of media channels and by distributing Meena comic books in schools, the Meena cartoon was popularised in society. Along with these, UNICEF introduced the Meena Media Award in 2005 to promote child rights in the mass media. During the last 21year journey of “Meena” as a change agent, the lives of children in Bangladesh have improved in many areas. Yet some important challenges remain. Children in Bangladesh account for about 40 per cent of the total population but they account for all of the country’s future. An estimated 17 million children are still living under the poverty threshold. Bangladesh has achieved the Millennium Development Goal on child survival, yet, in 2012 over 130,000 children died before their fifth birthday from largely preventable causes. Every day 50 children die on an average due to drowning which is around 18,000 per year. Girl enrolment in schools has increased, today more girls attend primary schools than boys. The challenge is now to ensure that all girls and boys complete their primary education and that they effectively master the required skills. Almost 23 per cent of children aged 6-10 years are out of school with little difference between boys and girls. Though the government has passed a new law to tackle child labour, its effective implemention remains a challenge. The proportion of child workers is higher among boys (9.1 per cent) than girls (2.6 per cent). The prevalence of real child worker (refers to children from 10 to 14 years old who are employed for the production of market and non-market goods not for household work or unpaid household services and who are not in school) is higher in urban areas (9 per cent) compared to rural areas (5 per cent). As per recent statistics, around 65 per cent of women aged between 20 and 25 years were married before the age of 18. Fortunately, the practice is declining, but is still very high in some pockets of the country such as Meherpur, Chapi Nawabganj, Kurigram, Chuadanga and Bogra. Child marriage contributes significantly to the high burden of child malnutrition in Bangladesh. The probability that a child becomes stunted increases by over 20 per cent if born to an adolescent mother. With all these challenges, after 21 years of existence, Meena’s relevance is still unparalleled, and much needed to challenge negative social norms. Rahima Khatun’s childhood ended before it really started when she got married aged only 13 in 1998. Her father died unexpectedly leaving her mother, who had just come to Dhaka, struggling to eke out a living. She was hurriedly married off to her cousin. But largely thanks to a cartoon character she has managed to ensure that history has not been repeated – and that her children will not be forced to marry at a tender age or miss out on an education in the same way that she did. The television animation character is called ‘Meena’ – who this year celebrates 21 years of regularly appearing on Bangladeshi television screens. Meena advocates for child rights, the benefts of education, healthcare, personal hygiene to bring about behavioural change in society. One of the key story-lines around Meena’s character is the burning issue of child marriage in a country where about two-thirds of girls get married before they are 18, the legal age for marriage in Bangladesh. In the course of her journey she has addressed thorny issues such as girl harassment, dowry, corporal punishment, child labour and disability. Rahima remembers well the positive infuence of Meena during her early years of being a teenage bride “There was only one colour TV in our village back then and I remember watching Meena. I was pregnant with my frst child at the time,” she says. “I love Meena and thought to myself that if my father was alive then I too would have been going to school like her.” For Rahima, the striking thing about Meena was the character’s wit and boldness. Meena has proved inspirational to Rahima when she defends her daughter’s right to receive the same quality of education as her son. “But Meena always taught us to look for solutions to a problem,” says Rahima, who lives in a slum in Uttara in Dhaka city. Meena’s appeal is not just confned to girls. “She has also helped scores of boys dispel negative stereotypes surrounding girls and women, portraying equality in a way that appeals to younger generations,” says student Osama Rahman. Other young people highlight Meena switching her chores with her brothers and her effort to improve sanitation and hygiene as salutary examples. “Meena competes with international cartoons for popularity among audiences,” says a young executive Mannan Zarif, who watched the series when he was a child. Afsan Chowdhury was involved in the early stages of Meena. He says that she has defnitely made a contribution towards changing society. . “She is remembered by many and is still popular amongst certain groups, the challenge now is to see how Meena can work for future generations,” he says. According to Mira Mitra, UNICEF’s Communication for Development Specialist, Meena’s message has proved very powerful through two generations. Meena materials including flms are produced to communicate messages through entertainment while carrying educational messages. “She highlights the problems, rather than take a decision herself she brings the matter to the forefront of people’s attention,” says Mira Mitra. Journalist and communications expert Shamsuddin Ahmed agrees. “Kids cannot go to school by themselves, it is the job of parents to send them,” he says. “And it is exactly here where Meena has brought about change. “A mother who watches Meena with her child understands the need for schooling for her daughter so that the child doesn’t end up like her – uneducated and married off early.” Meena’s message has proved so powerful that the enrolment of girls in primary school increased dramatically bringing about gender parity. In addition to this year celebrating her 21st anniversary, she is also spearheading a campaign which makes the point that “quality education protects children from child marriage and child labour.” Meena appears on almost all the TV and cable network channels, has been introduced into the curricula of certain schools, used as a theatre personality and featured in a live radio programme. Happy birthday Meena and many congratulations on a stellar career.