Selina Aktar, a girl from Kansat in Chapainawabganj, was married off at 12 in 2002 with a schoolteacher. For two years she suffered at her in-laws’, where no one liked her. The husband, Shohidur Rahman, used to live mostly in the city. Later her in-laws convinced Shohidur to divorce her.
Major reasons of early marriageTraditional customs and religion Poverty, lack of education Social tension and social insecurity Lack of proper implementation of marriage laws
Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. It also has one of the lowest rates of birth registration in the world, which constrains legal protection against child marriages. Two in three women marry before the legal age of marriage and one in three women start childbearing before the age of 20.
Unicef’s State of the World’s Children Report 2011 said 66% of girl children get married before 18 in Bangladesh. The situation in Sylhet, Chapainawabganj, Rangpur, Jessore, Bhola and parts of Khulna is worse than in the rest of the country.
Laws and different policies by the government are in place to prevent early marriage. But the initiatives are yet to meet with significant success.
Seema Zahur, vice-president of Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association, said: “Poverty is massive in the country, so girls in poor families are seen as an economic burden. Poverty and lack of social security appears to be the main reasons of early marriage.
“Parents feel insecure about their adolescent girls. So, when you are trying to prevent early marriage, you have to provide them with economic and social security first.”
Seema thinks awareness programmes are a western approach to solving the problem. “We do not think we can stop child marriage in the next 20 years. Only if we take proper initiatives to provide economic security to families, we will be able to achieve our goal,” she said.
According to the law, marriage below 18 for girls and 21 for boys is considered an offence. However, enforcement of the law has been slack and prosecutions are rare for breach of the law. Early marriage committees in the district and upazila levels are mostly inactive.
Corruption at marriage registrar offices is also responsible for some of the child marriages. Marriage registrars are certified by the government to conduct marriages for Muslims. They work under the supervision of district registrars. Interviews with marriage registrars reveal that most of them register marriages without identifying the age and confirming the consent of the bride.
Meher Afroj Chumki, state minister for women and child affairs, said: “We do not think awareness programmes are not necessary. We should enforce the laws and try to increase economic facilities to poor families, but at the same time we must make people aware of the bad effects of child marriage.”