Reversing the trend of child marriage
26 April 2016, Nirapad News: There is a new research entitled “Context of child marriage and its implications in Bangladesh” revealing some interesting findings. As appeared in The Daily Sun (March 29, 2016), child marriage has a negative effect on girls’ educational attainment and girls who are married off before 18 are one and a half times more likely to drop out of educational institutions than the women who get married as adults.
Population Science Department of Dhaka University has conducted the research with the financial support from UNFPA Bangladesh and six districts (Bhola, Kurigram, Magura, Chapainawabganj, Nilphamari and Satkhira) have been identified for high prevalence of child marriage.
Many of the readers might also have seen the promising news published in different newspapers. Meherpur district has been declared free from child marriage in the last week of February 2016. Thanks to the collaborative efforts made by local administration and NGOs in the district. In presence of government high officials including Cabinet Secretary, Meherpur has formally been declared free from child marriage.
Bangladesh is one of the earliest signatories of Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and it has been stated at the very first article in CRC, “For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier”. There is a high prevalence of child marriage though any boy or girl below the age of 18 is not considered as adult according to the Majority Act 1875. No matter what is written in the law, children from disadvantaged communities largely tend to get married long before attaining the age of majority.
The latest Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey (BDHS) suggested a declining trend as child marriage declined to 59 percent in 2014 from 65 percent in 2011. Child marriage previously declined only by four percentage points from 69 percent in 15 years between 1996 and 2011 though. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina pledged to eliminate child marriage by 2040 in the London girls’ summit in 2014.
However, there was a setback in the middle of 2015 when there had been an attempt to lower the minimum age of marriage from 18 to 16. There was a government memo indicating that marriages of girls between age 16 and 18 could go ahead with consent from the girl’s parents or a court. Outcry from activists and international donors have been able to halt this promulgation until now. Will this effort last at the end?
Good news is that administration of Meherpur has been working with international child rights organization Save the Children and local NGOs to end child marriage through raising awareness, building capacity, creating access to service and setting up reporting mechanism. A database of the vulnerable families, who have girls aged from 12 to 18 years was developed in this regard. Divisional Commissioner has issued an official note to other district officials to initiate the practices in others districts as well. If local administration works with other stakeholders, it is quite possible to make other districts free from child marriage. It requires a commitment from all the stakeholders though. Can this be replicated in other districts too?
Oli Md. Abdullah Chowdhury is a human rights worker.