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Ending child marriage will benefit Bangladesh economically

  • Published at 10:01 am September 7th, 2017
Ending child marriage will benefit Bangladesh economically
Seventeen-year-old Rahima (not her real name) was married off at the tender age of 13 when she was a seventh grader. A year and a half later, she gave birth to her son. “I was not allowed to go to school after marriage,” she said. “I miss my friends but what can I do?” She was barred from going out of home or play with children of her age after getting pregnant. “I wish I could continue my studies,” she said. “Honestly, I still do not feel like a mother and sometimes I do not understand anything at all.” Underage marriages involving children like Rahima is common in Bangladesh, which has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. It is a global menace that shows no sign of slowing down. Every day, an estimated 41,000 girls are married off before they turn 18. Child marriage can victimise both girls and boys but its devastating effects are harder on girls. Bangladesh could save 11.7% of its total education budget by 2030 by eliminating child marriage and early childbirths, a recent report by the World Bank Group and the International Center for Research on Women said. Ending child marriage is among the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. According to the “Economic Impacts of Child Marriage: Global Synthesis Report”, more than one in three girls are married off before the age of 18, and almost one in five have their first child before they turn 18. The report includes Bangladesh as its 15 core countries for the estimations represent a wide variety of settings, including in terms of the prevalence of child marriage. It considered five domains of impacts of child marriage: fertility and population growth; health, nutrition, and violence; educational attainment; labour force participation, earnings and productivity; and decision making and other areas. World Bank analysis suggests that the economic cost of child marriage is high. Ending child marriage and early child-bearing could reduce fertility and lower population growth by about one tenth in high prevalence countries. The analysis suggests that globally, by 2030, gains in well-being for populations from lower population growth could reach more than $500 billion annually. In 2016, Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics and Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Division, with support from UNICEF, conducted a real-time monitoring on the coverage of social services in Bangladesh. Among the 200,000 households interviewed, 35% of women aged between 20 and 24 years reported getting married before 18.

Fertility and population growth

Early marriage has a huge impact on fertility and population growth. The World Bank report estimated that a girl marrying at 13 will have 26% more children over her lifetime than if she is married at 18 or later. Child marriage is the cause of at least 75% of girls having children before 18. On the other hand, ending the practice will reduce fertility rate on average by 11% and could reduce share of girls having a child before 18 by three-fourths. The scenario in Bangladesh is more critical at this point as its fertility rate is highest in the South Asia – 2.1 according to the World Bank. The government aims to bring it down to 1.7. Three in four early childbirths may be linked to child marriage, the World Bank report estimates. The Demographic Health Survey says around 84% of early childbirths in Bangladesh may be due to child marriage. According to estimates, globally (for 106 countries) the welfare benefits from reduced population growth by ending child marriages could reach $566 billion per year by 2030.

Health, nutrition and violence

Under-five mortality rate is 3.5% higher in children born of mothers under the age of 18, the report said. Three percent under-five children deaths are directly attributable to early childbirths. The report also suggests linkage between Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and child marriage. A UNICEF study said 47% married girls aged between 15 and 19 are subjected to violence by their husbands. In Bangladesh, 70% women go through IPV. An epidemiological sub-study by icddr,b found that violence against women and stress affect both child care practices and child health and nutrition. It found that 60-74% of married women had been subjected to violence by their husbands, and that these women exclusively breastfed for a shorter period compared to non-abused women. The study also found that daughters of mothers exposed either to severe physical violence or a number of controlling behaviours by their husband were more likely to die before reaching the age of five compared to daughters of non-abused women – but this was not the case for male children. Farzana Majid, icddr,b gender specialist, told the Dhaka Tribune, “Child marriages and early childbirths could lead to domestic violence and 'lost generation'.” Despite progress, the level of malnutrition in Bangladesh is among the highest in the world. On average, early childbirths resulted in stunting of one in 100 under-five children while being born of a mother younger than 18 increases the risk of under-five stunting by 6.3%, the World Bank study showed. Eliminating child marriages and early childbirths between 2016 and 2030 could save an estimated 3.6 million and 4.4 million under-five children respectively from stunting. It could also save the lives of another 4.6 million under-five children. This could also save the world $98 billion annually by 2030.

Education

Child marriage has been cited as one of the key reasons for increased school dropout rates for girls in Bangladesh. Forty percent girls aged 15-19 have dropped out of schools, according to 2015 BBS data. “This may increase if we fail to stop child marriage,” Rasheda K Chowdhury, executive director of Campaign for Popular Education, said. Each year of additional secondary education reduces the risk of marriage before the age of 18 by 4.1%, and the risk of having the first child before 18 by 6%, the World Bank study suggests. It is rare for an adolescent girl to continue school after she is married, the report added. “Through its impact on education, child marriage reduces earnings in adulthood for women marrying early by 9% and ending child marriage could increase the population’s earnings and productivity nationally by 1%,” it added. Rasheda said continuous investment in both primary and secondary education sectors will help curb child marriage.

Bangladesh's Child Marriage Restraint Act

Bangladesh is the only South Asian country that allows child marriage in exceptional cases. The Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017, passed on February 27, had a special provision allowing underage marriage “under extraordinary circumstances in the best interest of the children” with the consent of parents, guardians and the court. It triggered massive outcry from rights groups who fear the loopholes in the bill could see victims forced to marry rapists. The government is yet to publish the draft rules. But the government has already taken a National Action Plan 2017-2030, which is at the draft stage, to prevent child marriage. The plan states that 75.5% girls in Bangladesh drop out from schools because of child marriage and it increases risk of maternal death by 5%. Mamunur Rashid, manager of civil society and policy advocacy of Save the Children, said the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs had invited them to discuss the draft rules. He said they suggested incorporating children and adolescent in the proposed child marriage prevention committees at all levels so that their voices can be heard. “We also suggested strong safeguards so that taking advantage of the special clause becomes difficult. We strongly suggested against considering cases of abduction, rape, sexual harassment or any kind of violence against children under special circumstances,” he said. Rashid said they proposed forming strong local committees that would suggest parents to consider special provision as the last resort. “We also suggested that the final decisions of marriage should come from the court while considering special circumstances,” he added. Rashid said stopping child marriage alone would be insufficient if the people's mindsets did not change. “We have to work together to eliminate the underlying gender discrimination so that girls get the chance of better education which will help stop child marriage, he added. Rashid also suggested providing vocational training to girls. The controversial Child Marriage Restraint Act has increased punishment for the offenders and rights activists hope that the final version of the Act will make child marriage difficult under special circumstances.
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