Battle against child marriage achieves little success

October-02-2013

The decades-long battle against child marriage in the country has yielded little success as 71% of rural and 54% of urban girls are still entering wedlock before coming of age, women rights activists observed at a roundtable discussion on Wednesday. Population Council Country Director Obaidur Rob said efforts from all quarters over the last 15 years have resulted in an increase in the average marriage age for girls by just one year in Bangladesh. “On average, girls on Thursday are getting married at the age of 16 instead of 15, which was the average age in 1998,” he said, “This places Bangladesh in fourth position among the countries having a high child marriage prevalence rate.” A patriarchal society and social insecurity manifested by sexual harassment of girls was responsible for the existing culture of child marriage in the country, claimed the speakers at the roundtable, titled, “Preventing Child Marriage and Keeping Girls at School” and jointly organised by the National Girl Child Advocacy Forum (NGCAF) and Women and Girls Lead Global (WGLG). President of Bangladesh MohilaParishad Ayesha Khanom, the chief guest of the session, said although the law guaranteed a girl’s right to have control over her own life, in reality very few benefits of that right was enjoyed. She called for a holistic approach by all concerned to create mass awareness about the scourge of early marriage and to ensure equality for the girls. Dr SaidulAlam, head of Education, Health and Children Welfare of Islamic Relief, shared his experience regarding the phenomena of child-marriage and its harmful effects upon human health at the function. “While working under Child Sponsorship Programme at Rangpur,” he said, “I came in contact with some 500 underage married girls in the district. As I was a physician, many disclosed the physical complications that they had been carrying for long. Most of the girls, aged between 12 and 14, had been suffering from uterus inflammation [a disease caused by sexually transmitted infections].” “Those children had been writhing in pain for long. Yet they could not pick up the courage to speak about it to anybody in their families; neither to their husbands nor anyone else,” Said Saidul. Dhaka University professor AmenaMohsin highlighted one of key factors behind child marriage. “Girls often face sexual harassment and assault on their way to and from school, which induces many parents to marry their daughters off. Until and unless we ensure social security for our girls, the age-old practice of child marriage would continue unabated,” she said. Other speakers at the roundtable included NGCAF president BadiulAlamMajumdar, BTV director general M Hamid, Women and Girls Lead Global Campaign-ITVS global coordinator Ellie Adelman, Plan Bangladesh Child Protection advisor ZinnatAfroze and DU Prof Mahmuda Rahman Khan.