Child marriage, a social stigma
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic now threatens to roll back progress on ending child marriage. As children and families cope up with school closures, loss of income and increased pressure in the home, there are heightened risks of child marriage. This is one of the reasons why UNICEF is urging governments globally to prioritise the safe re-opening of schools. Even during normal times, married girls are over four times more likely to be out of school than unmarried girls.
According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) "A child is any human being under the age of 18." In the context of Bangladesh law, some relaxation has been made to child marriage considering the prevailing situation. Child marriage is a violation of human rights. It adversely affects education, health and well-being of girls and perpetuates cycles of poverty. Child brides experience the detrimental physical, psychological and social consequences of child marriage. This is a global phenomenon and a grave cause for concern.
Bangladesh still has high rate of child marriage. More than half of all girls are married before the legal age of 18. Girls who get married are often under pressure to give birth to a child early. Teenage girls have a lower Contraceptive Prevalence Rate than other women and a higher unmet need for Family Planning. Teenage pregnancy puts the lives of both mothers and babies at risk. A recent new UNICEF report calls for accelerated action to end child marriage in Bangladesh by 2030. Despite significant progress in recent years, Bangladesh has the highest prevalence of child marriage in South Asia and ranks among 10 countries in the world with the highest rates.
While the prevalence of child marriage in Bangladesh has dropped from over 90 per cent in 1970, it remains very high: 51 per cent women who are currently aged 20-24 were married while they were still children. As a result, the country is home to 38 million child brides who were married before their 18th birthday, including 13 million who married before the age of 15.
Ending child marriage is a priority for both the Government of Bangladesh and UNICEF. However, to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target to end child marriage by 2030, and the national target to end child marriage by 2041, Bangladesh requires more efforts to bring change. Progress must be at least 8 times faster than the rate of the past decade to meet the national target, and 17 times faster to meet the SDG target.
This human rights violation has devastating consequences for individuals and societies, robbing children of their childhoods and limiting their life choices. Initiatives should be taken to secure girls' rights to life and education, and reduce their exposure to violence and exploitation.
The consequences of child marriage in Bangladesh are dangerous. Drop out of secondary education, teenage mothers are more likely to suffer from birthing complications, early pregnancy, malnutrition, mental illness, sexual violence, domestic violence and many more are the result of early marriage. Usually the girls who married off at an early age are suffered from multiple pregnancies. Domestic violence from spouses and in-laws are very Common issues for the adolescent housewife. And we can say that child marriage is a major obstacle to social and economic development.
Majority of us still think that girls cannot contribute much financially for the family and society. Poverty and low literacy are the two major factors which are encouraging early marriage. Extreme poverty is still a daily reality for many families in rural Bangladesh and the parents who are unable to feed their children always try to find a husband for their daughters so that they can eat at least three times in a day. Bangladesh is known as a direct victim of climate change in the world. The girls who are living in the most disaster affected areas of the country are the most vulnerable for early marriage and trafficking.
But this is not only the child girls from poor families are always forced to get marry below the age of 18 but also the girls from wealthy families in Bangladesh also have been forced into marriages as children. Sexual harassment of the adolescent girls are the common issues in a society where a large number of its population still do not believe that marrying an underaged girl is a form of sexual violence. In some places, child marriage is a cultural norm. Even early marriage is seen as a way to protect a girl's sexuality in a society where girls are always unsafe.
In Bangladesh, it is most common for the father to make the decision regarding his daughter's marriage. Dowry is still a major concern while we are talking about early marriage because sometimes the demand of dowry depends on the age of a girl in Bangladesh.
Child marriages have negative effects on the lives of young girls. Early pregnancies increase the risk of maternal and child mortality as well as fistula. Young brides are economically dependent on often older husbands and will divorce early; and since young girls are forced to leave school upon marriage, their life opportunities are limited once they are divorced. Honour, image and perceptions about the importance of girls 'chastity are so all-encompassing that detrimental health consequences of child marriage do not stop communities from practicing it.
Girls must be encouraged to return to education to improve their knowledge and skills. Those are educated are least likely to be child brides, even if they are from poorer households and live in rural areas. Education is our greatest tool to transform society and bring equal opportunities for girls.
A law that forbids child marriage is in itself no guarantee of an end to child marriage, but it will make life easier for anti-child marriage advocates. Until activists can fight child marriage with support of the law, they risk being perceived as anti-government. Over the past decade there have been a lot of positive changes regarding social development. But still Bangladesh has a long way to go. Attention must be paid to this issue.
The writer is a banker and