Child marriage is a major barrier to women’s empowerment

Incidents of marriages among girls continued mainly due to poverty, lack of social security and adequate control by the authorities, observed researchers and rights activists.

Child marriage, they also observed, is a major obstacle to women’s empowerment in the country and thus slows the achievement of different national and international goals to end violence against women.

A girl, if married early, is deprived of her basic rights, including the rights to education, reproductive health and a profession, and ends up becoming a burden on her family and suffers from domestic violence, have they added.

According to UNICEF statistics, Bangladesh has one of the highest child marriage rates in the world.

According to the UNICEF website, more than 50% of Bangladeshi women who are now in their twenties were married before they were 18 and nearly 18% before they were 15.

Target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals calls for the elimination of all harmful practices affecting girls, such as early and forced marriage of girls and female genital mutilation, by 2030.

The government has set a national target to end child marriage by 2041.

As the President of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, Fauzia Moslem has said, child marriage affects the empowerment of women in every possible way, as it deprives her of all her rights at the beginning of her life.

Early marriage deprives a girl of her rights to education, reproductive health, a profession and a life of her own free will and ultimately turns her into a burden on her family as well as society, he said. she declared.

Worryingly, a recent study by Parishad revealed that this trend is not recognized as an injustice towards women in the country, as people do not consider child marriage to be a crime, a said Fauzia.

The main reasons for child marriage are poverty, lack of proper education among guardians and girls’ lack of security in their environment for which many parents are afraid to send them to school, she said. declared.

“Guardians believe their daughters would be safe in their husbands’ homes, but our statistics show that girls are not safe even in their husbands’ homes due to domestic violence,” Fauzia said.

She urged the authorities to take measures to ensure the safety of women and sensitize people to change their mentality towards women.

According to a recent BMP report on violence against women, compiled based on news reports, 284 girls were victims of child marriage and 43 were victims of attempted child marriage in 2021 while the figures for 2020 were 84 and 33 respectively.

BMP legal aid subcommittee lawyer Dipti Shikder said that because they based their report solely on information published in newspapers, the number of child marriages in their report was low.

During the pandemic, she pointed out, incidents of child marriage have seen a sharp increase while these incidents were heavily underreported as the families involved secretly arranged child marriages.

According to a study by the Manusher Jonno Foundation, at least 13,886 child marriages took place in 21 districts across the country during the months of Covid-induced lockdown in 2020.

MJF executive director Shaheen Anam said child marriage robs a girl of becoming self-sufficient and pushes her into family and social life without her consent.

“Bangladesh has the highest number of child marriages among South Asian countries,” she said.

Due to existing social norms, coupled with “religious” beliefs, Shaheen said, people view girls as a burden and try to get rid of them by marrying them off.

“We do not see any strong implementation of the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017 as the state mechanism for implementing the law is not functioning properly,” she added and demanded the implementation. work of the law.

MJF program coordinator on violence against women, Arpita Das, said that a large number of incidents of child marriage have occurred during the pandemic.

“The government should conduct a nationwide study to determine the extent of dropouts in educational institutions during the pandemic and the reasons for these dropouts,” she added.

Sanzida Akhter, associate professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of Dhaka, said the number of child marriages had increased during the pandemic.

Child marriage, she observed, ruins a girl’s opportunities to learn life skills and prevents her from entering a profession in the future, which ultimately works against women’s empowerment. women in all respects.

While the government should leverage the Child Marriage Act, a cultural transformation is also needed, she observed.

“People sometimes think that marriage is the only way to keep girls safe and free,” she said, adding that poverty and insecurity – those two major vulnerabilities – must also be addressed. account for the empowerment of women.

The BMP report showed that 45 women were killed in dowry-related violence and 93 were victims of such violence in 2021, while the 2020 figures were 52 and 65 respectively and the 2019 figures were 70 and 84 respectively.

Citing newspaper reports, rights organization Ain o Salish Kendra said 197 women were reportedly killed by their husbands between January and October in 2021, 240 in 2020, 218 in 2019, 193 in 2018, 213 in 2017 , 191 in 2016 and 212 in 2015. .

According to the data, 63 women were tortured to death for dowry between January and October 2021, 89 in 2020, 96 in 2019, 85 in 2018, 145 in 2017, 126 in 2016 and 187 in 2015.

Mara R. Wilmoth