‘It is the immediate measures taken by the government that significantly decreased child marriage during the period’
At least 6,371 girls have been rescued by the government after receiving calls from relatives or neighbours on its hotline 1098 during the ongoing pandemic.
The Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Dr Ashrafi Ahmad, revealed the statistics at a policy dialogue for the research project, “Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) of Persons with Disabilities in Bangladesh”, conducted by Brac James P Grant School of Public Health under Brac University.
Acknowledging the rise in child marriages during the initial stage of the ongoing pandemic, the joint secretary claimed: “It is the immediate measures taken by the government that significantly led to a decline in child marriage during the period.”
“The ministry initiated counselling to make the general public aware about child marriage and as a result the DSS (Department of Social Services) was able to save 6,371 girls from child marriage during the pandemic after getting calls from their neighbours or relatives,” the joint secretary added.
However, sexual rights of girls with disabilities are often neglected, said the government official, adding: “It’s a right. Every disabled girl also has sexual rights.”
The Joint Secretary of the Health Service Division under the Ministry of Health, RAM Pervez Rahim, said the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs was responsible for securing the rights of girls with disabilities under the adolescent girls development programs.
In many cases, people with speaking disabilities, who use sign language, face problems in communicating with the court, he observed.
“This is why we are initiating a training program so that at least one person in the court knows sign languages and can work as an interpreter,” he said.
What the research found
During the discussion on the research paper, Senior Research Associate of the institute Fatema Akter Bonny presented the research summary.
Some 5,000 participants participated in the research that had three objectives -- to explore SRHR needs, knowledge, sufferings and service utilization by persons with disabilities, mapping of existing interventions and services, and to find out the gaps in and remedy for existing approaches.
The survey showed that 52.1% of persons with disabilities suffered from any SRHR issues in the past 12 months prior to the survey period but only 45.1% among them sought SRHR services.
The research also found that 74.3% of women and girls with disabilities experienced emotional violence while 33.2% of women and girls with disabilities experienced physical violence. Besides, 10.3% of women and girls with disabilities who participated in the survey experienced sexual violence.
Fatema Akter said during the course of the survey the parents of the girls with disabilities conveyed their fears of their daughters falling victim to violent activities as they are the most vulnerable here.
At the program, speakers also urged physicians and doctors to become aware about how to deal with people with disabilities and ensure that they have accessibility everywhere
Zuena Aziz, senior secretary and principal coordinator for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Affairs under the Prime Minister's Office, Mohua Paul, co-founder of Access Bangladesh Foundation, Dr Veronika Flegar, first secretary (Human Rights, Humanitarian Affairs and Gender) of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Bangladesh, and KAM Morshed, director (Advocacy, Technology and Partnership) of Brac, were among others present at the program.