The government of Bangladesh has been working very sincerely for the empowerment of women but child marriage is one of the biggest obstacles behind the empowerment of women. Despite various measures being taken to stop child marriage, it is still high and is now a major concern for the entire country.
According to Bangladeshi law, the minimum age for marriage for boys is 21 years and for girls it is at least 18 years. Child marriage has a negative impact on both boys and girls, but girls are the most affected by child marriage.
Men's negative attitude to women, poverty, dowry, social practice, religious prejudice, religious misinterpretation, regional customs, insecurity, fear, social stress, gender discrimination, domineering mindset, etc are the causes of child marriage. The impact of child marriage on girls is long-term, especially in the context of health education and social development. Child marriage, pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of the death of women aged 15 to 19 in the developing world.
Social insecurity has become one of the leading causes of child marriage worldwide. There are some misconceptions in the society of Bangladesh that if girls are not given in marriage quickly then they can get involved in any kind of illicit relationship and can be a disrespectful threat to the parents. Many families in Bangladesh, especially illiterate families, still believe that if girls are not married soon, they may run away secretly, and the girl's family may face a great deal of social pressure and humiliation.
Poor families see girls as a burden to the family and they want to arrange girls' marriage quickly and breathe a sigh of relief and they think that girls should get married early to ensure their future security. Girls get infected with a variety of complex diseases including sexually transmitted diseases due to child marriage and getting pregnant at a young age which makes their lives very complex in later life. Women, who are victims of child marriage are victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse and marital rape, and at the same time their economic emancipation and empowerment are hampered. Pregnant women between the ages of 15 to 19 are twice as likely to have maternal mortality as pregnant women over the age of 20. And women under the age of 15 are 5 to 7 times more likely to die. Women who give birth before the age of 15 have an 88% chance of developing fistula.
Girls who are victims of child marriage give birth to premature babies at a rate of 35 to 55 percent. In all cases of mothers under the age of 18, the infant mortality rate is about 60%. If a girl gives birth to a child under the age of 18, all the children have low immunity, become physically weak, suffer from malnutrition and suffer from various physical complications. Illiterate girls are more likely to be victims of child marriage and child marriage ends the education life of girls and girls who have just completed primary education are more likely to get married under the age of 18 than girls with secondary education. Girls who are victims of child marriage have to struggle with poverty and other social conditions for the rest of their lives because if their husbands die or get divorced, they face extreme social and economic dangers.
According to the Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey (BDHS) 2017-18, about 60% of the country's girls are getting married before the age of 18. According to the BDHS 2007 and 2011 survey, the rate of child marriage was 65%. According to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2019, child marriage rate is 51%. and in 2012 -13 this rate was 52 percent. In addition to enacting laws to curb child marriage, the government has adopted a variety of practices and is encouraging women's education.
It is also possible to prevent child marriage by calling 109, even by calling 999. The Department of Women's Affairs has received data on the prevention of a total of 1756 child marriages across the country in 2018. It is difficult to get accurate statistics as child marriages are performed in secret. The Ministry of Child Affairs has taken up a program to completely stop marriage under the age of 15 by 2021 and child marriage by 2041.
A study by BRAC found that 85% of child marriages are consummated due to concerns about the future of girls. According to UNICEF, two-thirds of Bangladeshi girls between the ages of 10 to 19 are victims of child marriage. According to Save the Children's survey, 66% of girls in rural Bangladesh are victims of child marriage before the age of 18. According to the data released by Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey, the average marriage age of women in Bangladesh is 15 years and three months. And the marriage rate for girls in rural areas before 15 years is 30 percent. 57% of pregnant women in Bangladesh are under 19 years of age and 41% of girls are forced to drop out of school due to child marriage. 80% of girls who are victims of child marriage are abused by their husbands and 60% of them suffer from various complex diseases.
There are many misconceptions about girls in our society. One of them is that the husband's family always thinks that marrying a girl under 18 will be easy to suppress her and she will be very submissive to the family. However, if a girl under the age of 18 gets married, her life becomes a nightmare for family and sexual abuse. The United Nations has declared that child marriage is a serious threat to human rights and a gross violation of women's liberties, and that high rates of child marriage adversely affect the country's economy.
Child marriage hinders women's participation in education and labor market and hinders women's development. According to a survey, high rates of child marriage have severely hampered the Millennium Development Goals.
According to the World Health Organization, the main way to prevent child marriage is to educate women, to strictly enforce the minimum age for marriage, to make parents aware of the risks of child marriage, and to ensure women's empowerment in the state.
Most people in Bangladesh do not believe that child marriage is a form of sexual abuse. In 2017, Sharmin, a Bangladeshi girl, went to the White House to receive the Brave girl award for stopping her child marriage, but how many girls like Sharmin have the opportunity or the courage to prevent child marriage?
Due to the corona epidemic, the rate of child marriage has increased a lot in Bangladesh because at this time many workers from abroad have returned to the country and they have got married and in this case the number of child marriages has increased a lot. Recently, a report has been published in the newspaper that 70 girls of a school in Rupsha, Khulna, fell victim to child marriage during the corona epidemic. When the educational institution was opened after a long year and a half, it was found that the rate of child marriage has increased a lot and according to a government data, 7500 marriages have been completed in nine districts during this period of Corona.
The Child Marriage Prohibition Act provides for severe punishment for child marriage, but due to a special section of the law aimed at preventing child marriage, it is not possible to impose such a severe punishment. The Child Marriage Prohibition Act of 2017 explicitly states that no girl under the age of 18 and no boy under the age of 21 will be married, except in special cases where girls under the age of 18 may marry with the consent of the parents and with the permission of the court. According to some experts, many parents are taking advantage of this special section of the 2017 law, making it harder to prevent child marriage.
In the context of Bangladesh, it is not possible for anyone to prevent child marriage alone. In this case, a concerted effort is needed and Qazis who play a vital role during marriage can be a part of this concerted effort. Qazis have a huge role to play in preventing child marriage and if any of the Qazis can be held accountable, child marriage will be greatly reduced. Child marriages are usually carried out secretly and fake and forged certificates are made to reduce the age of the girls and are often assisted by local public representatives and parents. In many cases, girls are given marriage by calling the Imam of the mosque without calling the Qazis, and in this case they do it for money. Qazis have a marriage register book in which the age of the couple and their information has to be recorded but in this case all the information is kept secret and false or misleading information is given.
A beautiful proposal has come from the parliamentary committee. The proposal made by the parliamentary committee is that Qazi will verify the information of the couple in the NID server, then take clearance. This proposal of the parliamentary committee is very timely and practical and if this proposal can be implemented in real sense then child marriage will be reduced to a great extent.
There are still misconceptions among the people in rural Bangladesh and most of the parents think that if the girl is not married quickly then they will not find a good groom for the girl so they arrange marriage of their daughters quickly before 18. The people's representatives are supposed to play an active role in stopping child marriages in rural areas but in many cases representatives support child marriages for the sake of voting or any other reason and often encourage such child marriages.
It is a bit difficult to stop child marriage in Bangladesh but it is not impossible at all and it is possible through a concerted effort. The country's teacher society and imams and muezzins of mosques and local public representatives and conscious people can play a big role to prevent child marriage. Mass media, print media and other media can also play a role.
The writer is Assistant Professor, B A F Shaheen College Kurmitola, Dhaka Cantonment.