There was a 262% rise in the number of child marriages between May and June
Keeping birth registrations in a single or cluster national database can bring a healthy solution to prevent child marriages in the country, said experts.
It would be more fruitful, especially when some people are still not sure about the age when girls turn adults, and during crisis periods like the Covid-19 pandemic which boosts the number of child marriages.
According to Unicef’s Bangladesh Child Marriage Report 2020, titled “Ending Child Marriage: A profile of progress in Bangladesh,” Bangladesh has the highest number of child marriages in South Asia.
The report said Bangladesh is home to 38 million child brides, including all, old and new brides, who got married off at an early age. Of them, 13 million got married even before turning 15.
Nearly five out of 10 child brides gave birth before the age of 18 while eight out of 10 gave birth before the age of 20.
A phone survey conducted by Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) in 53 districts, found that 462 girls were victims of child marriage in June, which was 160 in May. It is a 262% rise in the number of child marriages from May to June.
The Unicef report suggested that, to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) target, and to end child marriage by 2030, or the national target to end child marriage by 2041, the country needs a major push.
It observed that the progress has to be made at least eight times faster than the rate it followed over the past decade to meet the national target, and at least 17 times faster to meet the SDG target.
Experts said that a single or cluster national birth registration database can work as a great push in this regard.
While talking about the Bangladesh Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) carried out in 2019 by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) in collaboration with Unicef Bangladesh, Professor and Chairman of Department of Population Sciences Dr Mohammad Mainul Islam said the survey presents some portion of the data but we need to keep the vital statistics right.
Vital statistics are the statistical outputs of a civil registration system which includes numbers and rates of births, key characteristics of births -- such as births by sex, location and maternal age, numbers and rates of deaths, deaths by key characteristics-- such as age, sex, location and cause of death and migration of the people.
The professor said: “This apparently needless information could bring miracle, especially in terms of child marriage.
“During our research we found that the new law has created some problems among the less educated or poor people in the underprivileged communities. They are not clear about the definitions and think that a girl becomes an adult when she has her menstruation.”
Besides, those who are supportive of child marriage, use this opportunity to create new and manipulated birth certificates to use as proof, he added.
“If the vital statistics are kept in one national database it can be used for every purpose like access to health, education, as well as to get married. The scope of manipulating the certificates would be thinner,” the professor claimed.
While talking about the consequences of non-registration of birth, Child Protection Specialist of Unicef Bangladesh Fatema Khyrunnahar termed child marriage as one of the major consequences thereof.
She said: “Birth registration, education, tax, migration, and death should be kept in one national database which would act as the key source of information before arranging any marriage.”
“It will facilitate the marriage registrar to be sure about the age of the bride while it will create an accountability for them as well,” she added.
Bangladesh already has a Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) system under the Cabinet Division. In February 2015, the CRVS Secretariat was established to coordinate the division’s role to create the CRVS system of the country.
According to the Child Protection specialist, the division has no more scope to delay, and needs to be more active as well as speed up right now to achieve the national and SDG goals.
National birth registration database for empowerment, legal procedure
Professor Dr Mainul Islam said although the participation of women in the workforce has increased, their number remained static in recent years.
If the birth registration is ensured in due time, it will give multiple facilities -- like when they will be eligible for work, what work they can do in which year, and their definitive age for marriage, he explained.
Fatema Khyrunnahar said the poor communities and the less educated people do not keep up with the birth registration. It brings problems during judicial procedures—such as determining the age of the accused.
A child must be tried by a Juvenile Court only, which becomes a difficult decision to take if their age is not determined, she added.