An unjustifiable curse on our society
The negative effects of early marriage come in many variations that are being widely discussed recently. From higher risk of teenage pregnancy, physical and mental health problems, to gender-based violence, school dropout, inequality, and economic deterioration -- it has been established that child marriage, indeed, is a violation of human rights and children’s rights.
The issue of child marriage encompasses various social and economic barriers that still exist in Bangladesh, where the rate of child marriage is one of the highest in the world. It is closely linked with drop-out rates in schools, premature childbirth and mortality, less mobility of girls, less access to income-generating activities, lack of social visibility, and eventually the harmful effects it has not only on the psychosocial aspects of child marriage survivors, but also on the larger economy.
Insufficient awareness on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), social insecurity, less access to health care, information and legal services, are all determinants of early marriage and pregnancy, which are life-threatening for both mothers and newborns.
Due to the high prevalence of early and forced marriages in the country, the government enacted the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017 which intends to stop the marriage of girls under the age of 18. However, the act gave way to newer complications due to a special provision, and as such, confusion has been created about the legal stand on marriage before 18 in “special cases.” This is mainly due to the lack of clarity on what these “special cases” might be.
Keeping aside the special provision, Bangladesh had still managed to significantly reduce child marriage last year, and this needs to go on. Innovative campaigns by the government and non-government organizations have seen visible success in combating child marriage and the forms of violence on women it imposes.
The Ministry of Women and Children Affairs in Bangladesh with UNICEF and partners has been implementing multi-media campaigns including radio and television public service announcements, outdoor publicity, as well as printed media and advocacy events. The government operates two helplines (1098 and 109) to combat violence against women and children; it also provides outreach services to women and children to stop child marriage.
Although many efforts are being given into the child marriage epidemic, we often miss out the girls who are already married off at an early age. If we can bring out and empower the survivors of child marriage and present them as examples, it will largely help the cause.
One such project working on empowering the lives of girls who are already married as children is IMAGE (Initiatives for Married Adolescent Girls’ Empowerment) Plus. More emphasis must be given on raising public awareness and social responsibilities to protect child rights, as laws and regulations are not enough to address such a large issue.
Concerted efforts by the government, NGOs, and society can largely reduce early marriage and help early married girls make a comeback and lead a prosperous life.
Syed Wadud is a Researcher and Content Developer working closely with the development sector in Bangladesh. He specializes in Social and Behavior Change Communication (SBCC) with focus on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). Reach out to him at [email protected]