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Dhaka Tribune

Rise of child marriage during pandemic: Forcing girls towards hell

The uncertainty of life during a pandemic has caused the sudden rise in child marriages, says an academic

Update : 09 Mar 2022, 03:39 PM

15-year-old Rima (not her real name) is longing for a divorce from her 35-year-old husband within eight months of her marriage.

She was married off by her parents forcibly in June last year when she was a ninth-grader.

Rima, the eldest child of a five-member family living in Barguna, was not ready for this step. But the prolonged school closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic allowed her family to force her and their minimal income to compel her into marriage.

However, within a few days, she realized that a mistake had been made. A few months ago, she refused to return to her husband's house in Dhaka after coming to her parents’ place.

Rabea Munni, project co-coordinator of the Barguna-based NGO ‘Jago Nari’, said the girl was married although she and the local administration had intervened in the issue beforehand.

Eight months ago, Md Kawsar Hossain, upazila nirbahi officer (UNO) of the Taltoli upazila, called Rima to learn more about the issue. 

Rima said after the intervention, her parents signed a bond and promised not to marry her off.

But within a few days, they fled the area and forcibly had Rima married in Dhaka, leaving no room for any action.

She is currently living with her parents and they are still trying to persuade her to stay in the marriage. She was not a healthy girl when she got married and now she looks worse.

The girl is dreaming of returning to a normal life and that can be done only by ensuring her return to education and the financial solvency of her family.

Weakening two generations

Tania Huq, associate professor of the Department of Women and Gender Studies of Dhaka University, termed financial insecurity as the leading cause for the rise in child marriage which had got an additional boost in the pandemic.

“A girl is a liability for poor parents. So, offloading a mouth from the family expenditure becomes their first thought. They never bother if their daughter is physically prepared for it or not,” she added.

Prof Mahfuza Khanam of the Department of Psychology at Dhaka University expressed similar concerns.

She explained how the uncertainty of life during a pandemic has caused the sudden rise of such marriages.

Mahfuza Khanam said they (parents) want to fulfill their responsibilities of marrying their girl off before they die.

"Apart from that, having plenty of time due to the lockdown also provoked them into fulfilling their duty. With our patriarchal mentality, we cannot see our girls sitting idle,” she added.

According to the academic, the impact of child marriage has fallen upon two generations.

“The unprepared and underaged girls mostly give birth to unhealthy children. Many underaged mothers also can’t accept the duty of nurturing their children,” she said.

The dynamism of child marriage in Bangladesh

Thousands of similar incidents could be found in the upazila and across the country.

Some 289 child marriages were stopped through intervention by Jago Nari in three unions of the Taltoli upazila alone.

Besides, it prevented 373 child marriages through counselling in the last two years.  Among these, it stopped 72 child marriages and put up resistance to 211 child marriages in 2021.

In October 2020, Unicef found that child marriage is mostly taking place in rural and remote areas while financial conditions have played the key role here.

In its report, Unicef also mentioned that 38 million child brides belong to Bangladesh. Of these, 13 million girls were married off before they reached the age of 15.

The organization said nearly five in ten child brides gave birth before age 18, and eight in ten gave birth before age 20. Besides, married girls are over four times more likely to be out of school than unmarried girls.

However, Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) presented another picture in collaboration with Plan International Bangladesh (PIB).

Last year MJF reported that at least 13,886 child marriages took place in 21 districts of Bangladesh between April and October 2020.

Citing eight national media, MJF gave an alarming situation of child marriages, saying that child marriage has increased several times over the figures for 2020.

They showed data consisting of 43,054 child marriages in 22 districts that took place during the Covid pandemic.

According to media reports, a total of 22,255 child marriages took place in the last four years in Kurigram following the outbreak of Covid.

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