While child marriage is still one of the most despicable malady in Bangladesh, a government minister on Tuesday said it would not be done away with fully until 2041, a long away deadline for a country where thousands on pre-nuptial age girls not only are forced into wedding but also bear children they really cannot rear up properly.
This is a stigma Bangladesh looks set to bear with because of poverty and lack of education and awareness are still widespread in rural areas. These also impede lives of many young girls living in urban slums or in virtual homelessness.
These problems need to be redressed soon through both government private initiatives, said speakers at the launching of a programme named "Initiative for married adolescent girl's empowerment (IMAGE)" at the city's Spectra Convention Centre, organised by Red Orange and funded by Netherlands government.
Syed Monjurul Islam, Secretary of Ministry for Health and Family Welfare, said that more than 30 per cent early married girls become mothers during their teens, and about a fourth of them end up bearing a second child
"They become mothers even when they need more maturity to face life," he said at the first-ever initiative to support girls who have been married off in their childhood having no knowledge of what awaits them in the new environment in-law's home.
IMAGE will be jointly implemented by Terre des Hommes Netherlands and Red Orange, a Dhaka based Media and Communication outfit, in cooperation with local non-government organizations Terre des Hommes Lausanne, SKS Foundation and Pollisree - primarily in three districts. The health secretary noted that early marriage among girls remained one of the major concerns of the government. "The curse of child marriage also seriously damages employment opportunities for the girls." he added.
He highly commended initiatives for Married Adolescents Girls' Empowerment, alongside other initiatives of the Health Ministry for 'better synergy'.
IMAGE will reach out to 4,500 early-married adolescents and help them understand, utilize and practice their Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.
The project will also conduct awareness and advocacy campaigns at the national level.
Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of early marriage in the world. According to UNICEF, two of every three girls will be married before they reach 18 years of age. This rate is higher than that of the South Asian region - 65% for Bangladesh compared to 48% for the whole region.
When asked about the aim of the project, Arnob Chakrabarty, Managing Director of Red Organe, said that "there are a number of initiatives to prevent child marriage across Bangladesh, (but) there is negligible initiative to provide for those children who have already been married."
"Initiatives for Married Adolescents Girls' Empowerment (IMAGE) intend to change just that," he added.
State Minister for Women and Children's Affairs MeherAfrozeChumki, speaking as the chief guest, said women's empowerment was an issue close to the heart of the ruling government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
She attributed early marriage to four factors - poverty, education, social security and mindset.
Chumki said although the government was working relentlessly towards preventing marriage before the girls come of age, "this remains one of the weaknesses in Bangladesh, despite its impressive gains in health indicators."
The state minister said that "initiatives are underway to ensure a complete stop to early marriage by 2041."
IMAGE aspires to intervene and bring about change through carefully selected messages for not just the girls but also their husbands, in-laws, parents and communities in the project areas that include three upazilas, one each in Gaibandha, Kurigram and Nilphamari districts.
Martine van Hoogstraten, Charge d'Affaires, Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and Sultana Kamal, Executive Director, Ain O Salish Kendra & Former Advisor to the Caretaker Government of Bangladesh, attended the programme as guests of honor.