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Child marriage up (STOP it)

An ICDDR,B study that explored the nature of early marriages and tried to understand the role of the community, revealed that people do not see any “visible” benefit in delaying marriage.

Young girls who suffered due to early marriage are the only ones aware of the pitfalls.

Early marriage that robs a girl’s physical, psychological and social development leads to early pregnancy, resulting in complications and deaths.

According to law, 18 is the minimum marriageable age for a girl in Bangladesh. The country ratified the UN convention on child rights, meaning until 18 everyone is child.

But Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey (BDHS) found two-thirds of women were married off before 18.

“It’s (early marriage) a complex social issue,” Dr Quamrun Nahar, an ICDDR,B associate scientist said while presenting the study results on Monday.

“Community does not see any visible benefit in delaying marriage especially when the risk of keeping girls at home outweighs the benefit,” she said.

The study found social insecurity like sexual harassment, poverty, dowry, fear of breaking social norms, and pressure from others were the reasons behind early marriage.

USAID funded the study.

It deputy director (health) in Dhaka Gregory Adams says this was to generate data to address the root cause of child marriage.

The qualitative study was carried out in four villages in four corners of Bangladesh as researchers say marriage age has regional variations. The reasons of early marriage also differ.

For examples, in north-eastern Habiganj it was found “very difficult” to resist a marriage proposal from immigrants, but in south-western Jessore parents’ fear of girls falling in love and its consequences like suicide led them to marry off girls early.

Coxs Bazar large family size and religious belief play the role while in northern Kurigram poverty and limited employment opportunities for girls’ are mainly responsible for early marriage.

The study also tried to identify the roles of individuals, family, local authorities, law enforcing agencies, marriage registrars, and religious leaders in preventing early marriage and revealed a dismal picture.

The community perceived that as an individual or family they have ‘little role’ to play in preventing early marriage in the neighbourhood.

They identified some key local actors who have major role in preventing early marriage like local political leaders, marriage registrars and religious leaders like Imam.

Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO), police, lawyer, marriage registrar, union parishad chairman, upazilla member and imam (Muslim religious leader) were interviewed in the study that also reviewed different documents like marriage register and birth certificates.

But it is the parents who take the decision about their marriage, girls told the researchers. “We obey our parents”.

But a few of them “sounded confident” that they would be able to convince their parents to delay marriage.

“If not they would ask help from local authority,” the associate scientist Dr Nahar said.

But parents asked the researchers why they would wait?

“My neighbour’s daughter is about the same age. She got married and is happy in her conjugal life” was one of the explanations parents gave to the researchers.

The government in 2011 introduced a rule to verify age through birth certificate before registering a marriage.

Upazilla chairman issues the certificate, but sometimes even marriage registrar doubts the age mentioned in the certificate.

As an individual, it was revealed that, people said they had “little to do’ to stop early marriage.

But they said local leaders, administrators, and law-enforcing agencies can play a role in stopping early marriage.

The government has also introduced a helpline 10921.

Secretary at the women affairs ministry Tariq-ul-Islam said they had introduced a helpline ‘10921’ in which they receive call.

But when they try to prevent a marriage, the parents ask, “then what?”

“Would you stop harassment, what about the financial support for her education,” he said, adding that the government was keen to solve the problem.

He said the government offers stipend for girls’ secondary level education so that they stay in schools and acknowledged that more need to be done.

ICDDR,B’s director for the Centre for Population, Urbanisation and Climate Change Dr Peter Kim Streatfield said Bangladesh has long been known for early marriage.

“Only some West African countries (Niger, Mali, Chad) report earlier female age at marriage than Bangladesh,” he said.

The research suggested raising awareness about the benefits of delaying marriage so that people understand the ill effects of early marriage.

Social security enhancement has been suggested along with empowering girls to tackle the menace.

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Anika Devi received her Bachelor’s degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University in 2012. She began freelancing for Business Solutions BD in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the assistant editor.
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