Civil committees might help government upazila level child marriage restraint committees
A number of committees were formed as part of monitoring and bringing an end to child labour in the Savar municipality. Though the primary goal and mandate of the Child Protection Monitoring Committee (CPMC) and Child Led Organizations (CLOs) has been to monitor and address child labor issues, the committees have incidentally proven to be effective in preventing child marriages as well.
The Village Education Resource Centre (Verc) formed the committees in consultation with local communities. Their objective was to complement sustainable development with implementation of the “Ending Child Labour in Bangladesh” project funded by Terre des hommes (TDH), a leading international children’s rights organization.
Babul Moral, Verc Savar project manager, said they formed 11 CPMCs and 11 CLOs in the areas where they are implementing the project. There is also an upazila committee to coordinate 11 other committees as well.
The primary task for the committees are monitoring and identifying children who are at risk of child labour in their neighbourhood. But as time went by, the committees found they were making an impact in reducing child marriages as well.
“The CLOs and CPMCs have stopped 36 child marriages in Savar from 2012-2019,” said Babul.
Priyota Khondakar, project coordinator of “Ending Child Labour in Bangladesh” said when the project started, the CPMCs and CLOs were formed in late 2012 or early 2013. But it took them years to become effective, really only from 2015 onwards.
“The committees stopped at least 30 child marriages since 2015 in nine wards,” she said.
Rokeya Haque, Savar upazila vice chairman and president of a Child Protection Monitoring Committee or CPMC unit, said that initially the task was not very easy for the CPMC as community members. In most cases, people initiating child marriages knowingly or unknowingly, were also relatives or close acquaintances of committee members.
The campaign to stop child labour also included issues related to curtailing child marriage but the initiative could not reach out to the masses. Only when the committees became strict on the matter were they able to prevent some child marriages with help from local administrations.
Now many are alert and locals know whom to approach in order to stop child marriage. Child Led Organizations or CLOs also help the local community to know more about the adverse affects of child marriage, the vice chairman said.
Marzia Akhter Sejuti, a former CLO member, and currently a teacher at the Anandapur Verc school, said she joined CLO in 2015 once she found out about issues relating to child marriage from one of her friends who was a CLO member.
What is CLO’s role?
A CLO’s role is mainly to find out if any children are involved in hazardous work or are out of schools, and to help them to go back to school. But they also take part in other social work as well, such as stopping child marriages and inspiring other children as well to stop child marriages in their neighbourhoods.
“It is very common that elders in the area are not ready to hear from us. So, we inform CPMC members about such bad practices and they take prompt action to stop child marriages,” she said.
Koly Khan, a ward level CPMC member and a member of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad’s Savar unit, also said the children involved with CLOs have become the voice of youth and are outspokenly identifying ill practices in society.
“In most cases, children informed us about a [potential] child marriage and we took action to stop the marriage. They also help us in addressing violence against children and work with us to help the child victim as well,” Koly added.
Involving local leaders
Mahila Parishad's Savar unit president, Parveen Islam, said CPMC activity is limited to the nine wards of Savar municipality. The best part of the committees is that they include some prominent figures of the community. “So, when they [influential individuals] approach [a family] to stop a child marriage it becomes easier. Solutions become much easier.”
She said there are 12 unions in the upazila under the jurisdiction of two police stations. But, according to her, the situation is worsening day by day as there are no monitoring facilities in all the unions.
Why is there child marriage?
A large number of families in the upazila, with many of their family members living and working overseas, worry about the security of their girl children. As such, the families often prefer to marry them off at an early age. Others in the community follow suit, motivated by such examples, she explained.
She said if such committees could be formed at the union level, including local and willing influential personalities in the committees, the number of child marriages would fall within a very short time.
“And I believe it would prove helpful in stopping child marriages if the committees were formed by the government,” she added.
The Ministry of Women and Children Affairs is currently working on formulating a policy to implement Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017. They plan to form an assessment committee in every upazila of the country to confirm and ensure the Child Marriage Restraint Act is being implemented as intended.
The legislation passed by parliament on February 27, 2017, included a “special circumstances” provision allowing marriages of underage children if it served their “best interests.”
Ministry sources confirmed that a provision for forming the upazila level committees has already been included in the draft Child Marriage Restraint Policy, 2017.