Address child marriage to build prosperous nation
Teenage students seem to be reluctant to study due to the closure of educational institutions for a long time--since March of the last year. During this COVID-19 pandemic, students, especially the teenage girls are not continuing study at home, properly. Bangladesh is one of the top ten countries where child marriage occurs, which is a matter of concern. According to experts, during the pandemic, child marriage has increased in the country.
Statistics shows that the rate of child marriage increases during pandemic, drought, war, conflicts and such events. Already 20 per cent people of our country are living below the poverty level and the Economists forecast that the poverty rate may be double during this COVID-19 crisis and then the child marriage may be jumped alarmingly.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic now threatens to roll back progress on eliminating child marriage. As children and families cope with school closures, loss of income and increased pressure in the home, the risks of child marriage has increased. 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 dropping out than unmarried girls.
Child marriage is a serious 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. Experts do believe that the child marriage has increased significantly in recent time. According to a survey of development organisation BRAC, child marriage has upturned 68 per cent of the first 10 months of 2020 than that of 10 months in 2019 and in the same time.
Shockingly, 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 UNICEF report calls for increased 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. While the prevalence of child marriage in Bangladesh has dropped from over 90 per cent (in 1970), it still remains very high. 51 per cent women who are currently aged 20-24 were married while they were under eighteen. 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.
This human rights violation has devastating consequences for individuals and societies, robbing children of their childhoods and limiting their life choices. It has to be investing now 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 incidents are the results of early marriage. Domestic violence from spouses is a very common issue for the adolescent housewives. We can say that child marriage is a major obstacle to social and economic development.
In Bangladesh, a patriarchal and unequal society prevails, where girls are often seen as burden. Majority of Bangladesh's population still think that girls cannot contribute much financially for the family and society. There are innumerable parents in Bangladesh who think it's a shame when they have a daughter age over 18 but remains unmarried.
Poverty and low literacy are the two major factors which are encouraging early marriage. Extreme poverty is still a reality for many families in rural areas 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 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 human 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 to marry in early age. However, in a patriarchal society, women frequently become victim of sexual harassment. In Bangladesh, it is common for the father to make the decision regarding his daughter's marriage. Dowry is still a major concern. While we talk about early marriage it should be noticed that, sometimes the demand of dowry depends on the age of a girl.
However, girls with an education above secondary school 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.
Ending child marriage is a priority for both the Government of Bangladesh and UNICEF. However, to achieve an important target of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)--ending child marriage by 2030, and the national target to end child marriage by 2041, Bangladesh has to take more initiatives. 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.
A law cannot guarantee the end of child marriage, but it will make life easier for the advocates against child marriage. Until activists can fight child marriage with support from 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 address this issue properly.
Md Zillur Rahaman is a Banker and Freelance Contributor