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Dhaka Tribune

Experts: School reopening delay could raise child marriage

The experts attributed the alarming increase in child marriage during the July-September period to more girls staying at home due to school closures

Update : 11 Oct 2020, 08:35 PM

Experts fear the child marriage crisis in Bangladesh could get worse with if there are further delays to the reopening of schools.

Bangladesh is among the top 10 countries in terms of the child marriage rate and the rate of child marriage has increased by up to 220% over the July-September period of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, they added.

The experts attributed the alarming increase in child marriage during the July-September period to more girls staying at home due to school closures.

Speakers made the remarks during a digital dialogue organized by Brac to mark International Day of the Girl Child on Sunday. Education Minister Dr Dipu Moni was the chief guest at the dialogue, titled “Girls must return to schools,” according to a press release.

BRAC Executive Director Asif Saleh, Bangladesh Police Women Network (BPWN) President Additional Commissioner Amena Begum, rights activist and member of parliament (MP) Aroma Dutta, Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE) Executive Director Rasheda K Choudhury, Dhaka University Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences Prof Sadeka Halim, social development adviser to the British High Commission in Dhaka Tahera Jabeen and First Secretary of the Australian High Commission in Dhaka Simon Barclay also joined the event, moderated by BRAC director Nobonita Chowdhury. 

Dr Dipu Moni said: “We have reached most of our target students in case of digital classrooms. The standard of classes taken through television has increased. Not only the government, but many non-government institutions are taking online classes, so it is not mandatory that students will have to go to classes. In many countries, schools have been closed again after reopening. We need to consider every aspect before deciding on reopening our educational institutions.” 

On girl children, the education minister said: “The birth registration process is being digitized at the union level. As a result, parents cannot fake their girls’ age and marry them off early. Important topics such as women’s repression and sexual violence is being included in our curriculum. Not only the Covid-19 crisis, we are repurposing our curriculum to tackle all sorts of challenges.” 

Asif Saleh said: “The long closure of schools is forcing our students to forget what they have already learnt. A research in Pakistan shows a five-month closure of schools has put students back by 14 months. We need to consider this in terms of our country. Rather than taking a sudden decision, we need constant monitoring to reopen our schools. We can consider reopening schools in districts where the rate of infection is lower. Non-government entities are ready to assist the government in this regard.”

Lawmaker Aroma Dutta said: “Reality must be considered before taking any decision. This is true that we lost a lot during this pandemic. The rate of school drop-out has increased. We need to ensure technological and technical education for students, especially for girls, so that they can ensure their livelihood whenever needed.

“We, especially our parents, need to change views about our girls. Very often, parents force their girls into early marriage. They still believe educating girls would lead to problems for their marriage. We need to change this mentality,” Aroma added.  

Also Read - National Girl Child Day: Pandemic raising risk of child marriage

Rasheda K Choudhury said: “School closures have affected both students and teachers. This pandemic is acting like a magnifying glass for us. Through this, we can examine all our mistakes and think on our way forward. Before reopening schools, we need to concentrate on the related data and reality.”

She also urged the education minister to introduce incentives in the education sector as in other sectors and ensure snacks for students during school hours. 

Prof Sadeka Halim said: “Bangladesh has made remarkable progress in women’s empowerment and girl children’s empowerment. If you look at the millennium development goals index, our girls’ enrolment in primary schools was on par with boys. However, child marriage has been instrumental to the drop-out rate of girls.

“During the Covid-19 crisis, we have seen that our education system is closely connected to our livelihood. We cannot consider the education system as an isolated phenomenon. We need to think about what can be done for about 43% families who have been forced under the poverty line and these families have many students at schools, colleges and universities,” she added.  

Tahera Jabeen said: “Schools have reopened in a number of countries. We need a guideline for our children and their families must be included as a stakeholder. The government, non-government and donor agencies must act in this regard.” 

Amena Begum said: “Many families think it is unnecessary to educate girls. Sometimes, parents forcefully marry their girls early. Our conception on what to do was not clear at the beginning of the pandemic. To prevent early marriage, people can avail services from police by dialing 999. We are working on school programmes to make students aware of this. I thank the education minister for including issues like good touch and bad touch in our curriculum.”

Simon Barclay said: “There is a role for both boys and men in supporting the girl children to have a voice in any space—at school, the mosque, temple or in cyberspace. The men and boys need to speak up to support their mothers, sisters or aunts in participating.

“Staying away from schools already increases the risks of dropping out. In terms of learning losses, when the schools reopen, both students and teachers need to intensify their efforts to address the losses. However, their return should not be at the cost of their life, so health issues must be addressed,” Barclay added. 

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