Despite regular global publicity and the presence of strict acts in countries against early marriage, the field-level scenario has not changed much since frequent stories of secretly arranged marriage get global population puzzled regarding the secret reasons behind the child marriage.
Very common reason comes to every mind behind child marriage is poverty but does that really represent the real new secrecy of it? Law enforcers, local representatives, development workers, journalists and parents have new points to be noted with concern.
The field level experience during preventing child marriage bid, writing and working against it, local level government high officials, law enforcers, local representatives, development workers, journalists as well parents have pointed some new reasons behind child marriage in Bangladesh.
Global Scenario of Child Marriage
According to unicef, 1 in 5 women was married before their 18th birthday globally and 650 million girls and women alive today were married before their 18th birthday.
The UN organization also reveals that 12 million girls are married off in their childhood ever year globally. In the world, South Asia alone is home to the 40 percent of the global burden (285mn or 44%) of child bribes. Sub-Saharan Africa stands at second position with (115mn or 18%) of child brides.
When the topic comes to the fore, we think of poor countries first, but child marriage occurs in developed countries with high-income as well. The unicef shows that the majority of all 50 States in the USA have an exception in law that allows children to marry before the age of 18. Meanwhile, in the European Union, only four countries tolerate no exceptions to the minimum age of 18 for marriage as of 2017.
Global Commitment to End Child Marriage
Countries across the globe committed to end early marriage by 2030 though the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Earlier in 2015, UN Member States initiated to adopt the SDGs: a set of 17 goals set out global development priorities between now and 2030. According to the SDGs target 5.3, governments pledged to “eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilations” by 2030.
A total of 193 countries agreed to end child marriage by 2030 under the SDGs and it will not be achieved without ending child marriage. But are the global countries on the right track to end child marriage or do the global population truly believe the SDGs target number 5.3? That’s a million-dollar question since still child marriage takes place in every minute somewhere in the globe.
Child Marriage Scenario in Bangladesh
The UN organization Unicef says Bangladesh has the highest prevalence of child marriage in South Asia and ranks among 10 countries in the world. The organization suggested an accelerated action to end child marriage in Bangladesh by 2030.
The largest deltaic nation is home to 38 million child brides. Of them, 13 million married before age 15. 51% percent of young women in Bangladesh were married before their 18th birthday. Married girls are over four times more likely to be out of school than unmarried girls. While, nearly 5 in 10 child brides gave birth before age 18, and 8 in 10 gave birth before age 20.
A vibe against child marriage is everywhere and the practice of child marriage is also less common today than before, but each and every day, the national media publishes news of secret child marriage arrangement being informed and prevented by the law enforcers, government officials. The most common solution goes to an understanding and promise not to marry off the girl child before 18. Thus, the story of child marriage arrangement ends and new stories come up! New stories continue to come to the fore without ending.
The government, INGOs, local NGOs, local representatives and many more have been working relentlessly with a noble intention to stop child marriage, but the change looks taking place very slow seemingly to be late achievement by the targeted year.
COVID-19 Pandemic & Child Marriage
Bangladesh introduced an Act called “Child Marriage Restraint Act, 2017” and strongly taking various steps to end child marriage. Child Marriage Prevention Committees have been formed centrally and in root level of the country’s administrative area. Government officials and local government have been empowered to take immediate actions against child marriage under the Act. There are punishments for contracting child marriage while the honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has pledged to end marriage under the age of 15 by 2021 and for those under the age of 18 by 2041.
Despite all these positive steps and actions, Bangladesh has witnessed a 13% increase in child marriage during COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 which is the highest rate of child marriage in the country in the last 25 years. Bangladesh-based international NGO Brac revealed the information and said the coronavirus has massively affected societies and economies, pushing many into extreme poverty.
According to a survey conducted by Manusher Jonno Foundation (MFJ), a total of 13,886 child marriages took place in 84 upazilas of 21 districts in Bangladesh during seven months of the ongoing pandemic in 2020.
Unknown Facts Found Behind Child Marriage Today
Today, the most common reason comes to every mind for child marriage seemed to be poverty in Bangladesh but does that really represent the secrecy behind it? Does that represent the secret stories of child marriage arrangements taking place in Bangladesh? Members of local administrations, law enforcers, local representatives, development workers, and journalists have other points to be noted with concern.
Commonly Known Causes of Child Marriage
Most of the field-level government representatives, journalists, development workers stated some common reasons behind child marriage are poverty, corruption of marriage registrar, social insecurity, lack of employment, exploitation, lack of income, big families to feed, gender inequality, cultural and religious beliefs, dowry, lack of education and awareness.
Newly Found Reasons Behind Child Marriage
Besides all the known reasons, there are some few uncommon reasons behind child marriage. Rapid socio-psychological change of adolescent girls with easy & available gadgets at hand, parents’ sense of insecurity while going to and from school, presence of abusive teachers at classroom, faster physical growth of girls thanks to food habits and lifestyle have been added to the list of secret reasons behind child marriage with the existing ones. On the other hand, the economical scars due to the ongoing pandemic have added a new point to the new list of reasons behind child marriage.
Psycho-social Change of Girl Children
Sonia Akhter, 16, pseudo name, a tenth-grader girl updated her marital status on her Facebook profile as ‘married’ during COVID-19 pandemic. The abrupt change of a bright girl’s marital status made her teacher stunned. Sonia chose her house tutor as husband in Gopalganj as a free girl and updated her marital status on social media. Her solvent parents were not happy but did take no strong steps against their new son-in-law to avoid social issues and a notion of security of their daughter’s future. Girls’ psycho-social change is vivid in the society which is well-accepted too.
Terrible Desires of New Richman in Society
Sometime it’s not about the girl child’s matter, but the negative and ill attitude of newly rich people mostly people returned home with huge foreign currency. They desire of marrying a very young girl (Kochi Meye reads in Bengali) seemed to be very unusual but has become a common phenomenon. Their wealth and foreign currency allure the parents to marry off underaged children in search of socio-economical security. Girl children fall prey to such elements in the society frequently.
Protecting a girl’s chastity major concern than child marriage
The nation has achieved tremendous success in educational inclusion of girl children. However, the new challenge arises for girl children on the way to & from school. Parents frequently hear complaints over eve teasing that make them hurry to marry off their girls faster. Parents think of their girl children as burden and they become furious to maintain family honor. A girl child’s advent to puberty makes their parents worry of protecting their chastity that becomes a major barricade to stopping child marriage. Marrying off a girl child becomes more important to protect her chastity than maintaining 18-year age restriction.
Mobile Apps and Changes in Lifestyle
Now not poverty alone is the reason behind child marriage, but some neo-cultures of various mobile apps-based lifestyles have become another issue of concern. Girl children are being focused through social media apps like- TikTok, Youtube, Facebook live, and others. A girl child tends to be elder and behaves like elders which literally changes her psycho-social status in her surroundings. The day-to-day thinking of girl child is changing by the trendy things at hand through android mobile which lessen the control of parents on their children.
Wrong Publicity of Religious Idealism
Religious scriptures say nothing wrong but the people speak of those mingle their own thoughts and feelings that misguide people with sober and pious hearts. Child marriage occurs and secretly arranged by guardians, pious people since they believe the wrong message of wrongly explained scriptures. Parents who arrange child marriage in Bangladesh frequently give lame excuse of religious scriptures that were wrongly explained.
Matchmakers Active in Villages
Marriage Matchmakers (Ghatak reads in Bengali) are very active in rural areas and have vulture eye on every rising girl child. The matchmakers provoke parents frequently and allure them to marry off their under-aged girl child to earn money both from parents and wealthy aged bridegrooms. On the other hand, aged wealthy bridegrooms are always ready to spend money to meet their ill desires of marrying girl child.
Reasons Are Not the Same today as Before
These reasons of child marriage were not the same 20 years back from now, and those are not the same today while it won’t be the same 20 years later from now! So, will it really change by 2030 or 2041? Will there be there any necessity to decrease the age of calling a girl as child? Those questions are at the policy makers’ hand.
Actions Suggested to Stop Child Marriage
More open discussion within family and classroom regarding child marriage.
Parents’ knowledge and vigilance on their children’s movement, attitudes, and gadgets they use.
Strict implementation of The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 2017.
More control on the newly introduced mobile apps to protect children from moral degradation.
Not to force children to understand but let them understand freely the negative impacts of child marriage.
More care for both boys and girl children to let them connected them within the family and values.
Inspiring both cultural and religious practices within society and family.
More holistic and concerted efforts to end child marriage by rising individual-level awareness.
Career oriented education from primary, intermediate level.
Restraining rural matchmakers from arranging child marriage etc.
Bangladesh Needs to Have More efforts
Bangladesh government is very active successful in economic, social, technological transformation including an exemplary infrastructural development and the country has become a role model of positive changes in the world. Bangladesh has a target to end child marriage by 2041 which is supposed to be achieved by 2030 according to SDGs target. The progress must be at least eight times faster than before to meet the national target, and 17 times faster to meet the SDGs target.
Writer Roton Malo is a freelance journalist and development worker. He is working at The Leprosy Mission International-Bangladesh (TLMI-B). Contact Email: email@example.com
Muksudpur Upazila Nirhabi Officer & Executive Magistrate Md Jobayer Rahman Rashed; Senior Journalist PR Biswas, Mijanur Rahman Manik & Shahidul Islam Nirob; Gobara Union Parishad Chairman Shafiqur Rahman Chowdhury, Gopalganj Sadar; Development Official Swapan Singh, Area Program Manager, World Vision Bangladesh & Rajkumar Mondol, Program Manager, World Concern contributed to the article by sharing their field-level experiences.
The article has been published first by Dhaka Courier on 9 July 2021 on its 52nd Issue in Bangladesh.