As an environmental science graduate, I had the opportunity to be in the rural areas of my beloved country for various research purposes. During my field visits in the rural areas of Bangladesh, I have seen many child brides maintaining households and many child grooms running households. The number of child brides is significantly much more than the opposite gender. This scenario shattered the calm image in my mind. We are developing, progressing and educating the nation but still a large number of populations are suffering from the social curse known as 'Child Marriage'.
Attending International Conference on Child Marriage - 'Strength in Unity, Girls are not Brides - A Global Youth Partnership to End Child Marriage', held in Melaka, Malaysia on 19 - 23 May 2016, was my way to know about the present status of the issue and overall situation of other countries as well. The conference was hosted by World Youth Foundation, an international organisation who engages, educate and empower youth worldwide. This conference not only focused on child marriage but also provided the participants with in depth knowledge regarding sexual exploitation, children rights, gender equality, online harassment etc. participants from 22 countries shared their experience and ideas to how to eradicate the issue and move forward. Bangladesh has the highest number of participant in the whole conference and other participants were presenting Hong Kong, Britain, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Kenya, Ghana, Indonesia, Myanmar etc. The Speakers included the President of the Commonwealth Youth Council (UK), (Malaysia), Representatives from United Nations Committees both on Women and the Youth, educationists, psychologists and relevant bodies on youth development.
If we consider the statistics, over 700 million people living today got married before their eighteenth birthday, 15 million children marry annually, 41,000 children get marry daily, 28 children marry every two seconds and for the last decade, about 140 million children have gotten married. The speakers mentioned that we all must see lives as being affected not mere numbers as every single number here is suffering the destiny they shouldn't have.
Mr Arjun Sanjel, social activist in Nepal, suggested that parent's education should be ensured to get the little girls and boys out of the problem. According to him, it's the parents who are forcing child marriages and education for them will be a big step to eradicate this problem. Nija Amir from Pakistan mentioned that it was her father's step which prevented her to be in the situation and that explains the point Mr Sanjel highlighted.
Saraban Tahura Zaman and Habiba Islam Shifat, lawyers from Bangladesh, presented various cases of child marriage and explained the root causes which were lack of education, social stigma, less awareness etc. participants from Myanmar highlighted how Rohingya Communities living as refugees practicing child marriage widely and seek for help to prevent this problem.
Dr Geetha Premkumar from India operated a children session which let us had the opportunity to know about children's perspectives regarding child marriage and gender equality and this session was an eye opener. 6 Malaysian children presented their opinions regarding child marriage and one of them Sarah Siaw, suggested an awareness concept named GEM (Gender Equality Movement) which she already started in her school.
With the experience I gathered in the conference, all I understood is that our social norms and mind sets are the reason behind this whole issue. To eradicate this big problem we need to aware people in a way that they will understand that girls are not burden. With proper awareness and education regarding gender equality can shade some lights to fade this darkness. The conferences concluded with three objectives which readily mentions about awareness and proper education. The objectives also highlighted about collaboration between different stakeholders from where the participants belong. The objectives are achievable through various action plant defines by us in broader manner. As a participant, I can say, it was successful a conference to make youth motivated to work with Child Marriage eradication and I believe the wonderful people I met in the conference have it in them to fight in the long run to save children from this curse.
Afroza Mahzabeen Anannya is Research Officer, Waste Concern