Since the dawn of 2020, the world has been trying to tackle the new Pandemic, finding vaccines and an ultimate cure. Amidst this crisis, the educational institutions have been closed for almost two years now. This has opened a Pandora of social problems which, to an extent, have been brought into control pre-pandemic. One of such is the issue of child marriages in Bangladesh. Anika Khan reports.
Child marriage is a common plight in Bangladesh. According to the official reports from UNICEF, 58% of the girls are getting married at the age of 18, and 13% at the age of 15 in this country. Studies revealed till late June showed that there have been 462 cases of child marriage this year in a total of 53 districts. Furthermore, 71% of the reported cases have confirmed that this was due to the schools remaining closed for the outspread of Covid-19.
The Pandemic has also widened gender equalities across the country. An estimated 50% of adulterant girls in this country are malnourished and suffer from anemia. Most of them are not adequately educated about reproductive health and contraception and are often vulnerable to dowry-related violence, kidnapping, and rape. There is also no adequate SRH information provided, giving rise to sexually transmitted diseases. The reports also show the dominant lack of visibility of the Bangladesh urban scenario.
Reports from Nari Maitree (NGO) revealed these as the leading causes of early child marriages:
- Social Superstition and customs
- Eve teasing/ Sexual abuse by men
- Schools being closed due to the Pandemic
- Corruption of marriage register and Birth Registration
- Absence of Social securities of teenage girls
- Inadequate penalty in the existing child marriage prevention Act1984
- Lack of complains
- Delayed verdicts from the court
The leading NGO came up with some possible solutions regarding the prevention of Early Child Marriage and its effect and ways to solve the social problem:
- Throughout the years, they have conducted research, reports, and workshops involving community People, Youth Club Members, Change Makers, law-enforcing agencies, local government authority, Kazi/Marriage Register/Imam/Moazzin, and Religious leaders to combat early child marriages.
- NM has identified critical issues related to the emergence to reform the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1984, where the penalty is very minimal and has to bring the political agenda by the politicians to address early child marriage.
- The duty bearers who are supposed to act remained without action or responding in isolation. As a consequence, child marriage has been taking place unabated. They undertook projects to strengthen the role of these duty bearers and bring them together to work out ways and means for collective actions.
- Their projects intended to sensitize the targeted population on the present amendment of child marriage Act2 014 and the negative consequence of child marriage to adolescent girl children, women, parents, and community people.
- They have created over 15 video shows on child marriage & sexual harassment and shown them in secondary schools to spread awareness.
- Furthermore, NM assists women and adolescents in both rural and urban levels in learning employment skills by giving them extensive free training workshops.
NM has also been working to provide free health care and consolation from women and adolescents in various districts.
Kalpana Akhter from Mymensingh district said,
“back in 9th grade, my parents arranged for me to be married. I did not consent to that marriage. I knew of the consequences of child marriage from the training and video exhibitions at our school. I told everything to my aunt, who took action to stop my marriage.”
Many young girls like Kalpana managed to get help from officials and local NGOs to stop early child marriages. Hundreds more every month are still falling victim to this/
With the Pandemic bringing in new challenges, NM and other organizations are working relentlessly for this cause and asking for the government and individuals to come forward and report these heinous crimes.
Support local NGOs and report child marriage cases near you by dialing the 1908 toll-free number.
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Anika Khan is the communication officer at Nari Maitree and WhatsOn Sub-Editor.