A hike in child marriage has been witnessed in different districts of the country since the coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey report of BRAC, an international development organisation based in Bangladesh.
Gender Justice and diversity department of BRAC found that child marriage increased by 13 percent in 11 districts when it conducted a survey to access the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on women and adolescence in 11 districts across the country last year.This is the highest rate of child marriage in Bangladesh in the last 25 years when the country is approaching to become a role model in various social advancement indexes including reducing child marriage to a great extent.
The survey found that loss of income of parents and school closures amid pandemic are the main reasons behind the rate of increase of child marriages.
According to different non-governmental organisations, child marriage has increased at an alarming rate in the months May, June, July, August and September.
However, the government through its local administration bodies, law enforcing agencies and with help of NGOs has been working hard to prevent child marriages across the country.
According to Women and Children Affairs ministry’s data, child marriage has increased in Kurigram, Natore, Jessore, Kushtia, Narsingdi and Jhalokati districts.
As per the official data, 231 child marriages occurred across the country in the first three months (March to June) of the lockdown last year, while the highest number of 61 child marriages took place in the northern district of Kurigram.The second highest child marriage 23 took place in Natore district followed by 15 each such incident in Jessore and Kushtia.
Besides, 10 child marriages have taken place in Jhalokati, eight each in Naogaon, Chapainawabganj and Narsingdi, seven in Gaibandha and Cox’s Bazar, six each in Nilphamari and Ladhipur and five each in Chittagong and Rajshahi.
Sujanagar Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) of Pabna Raushan Ali saved Suma Khatun, a 15-year-old eighth-grade student under the same upazila when her family forcibly wanted to marry her off with a man from neighboring upazila.
Ali arrived at the Khatun’s house with police force and was able to arrest the would-be groom while the mobile court later sentenced him to seven-day in jail.
In a similar incident in Dharmapur area of Gaibandha district, a 14-year-old schoolgirl was saved from early marriage by local administration as they took immediate action to stop the marriage after receiving a call from the neighbors on the Child Helpline 1096.
Although the government has been able to stop one or two such incidents of child marriage in distraught families amid the pandemic, many child marriages occurred evading the eyes of local administration and law enforcing agencies.
Shaheen Anam, executive director of the Foundation for the People (MJF), said, 59 per cent of girls in the country get married before the age of 18 while 22 percent of girls get married before their 15th birthday.
Explaining why child marriage has increased during the pandemic Anam said, all educational institutions in the country remained closed to prevent the spread of the virus while many people also lost their jobs.
Against this backdrop many parents got worried about keeping their children with them because of social security concerns. As a result, the situation prompted the parents in taking decision to arrange marriages for their teenage daughters.
Chowdhury Mohiman, manager of the Child Helpline 1098, run in collaboration with UNICEF, said the reported cases of child marriages received by the child helpline have gone up alarmingly during the pandemic period.
In April last year, he said, the Child Helpline received 450 phone calls related to child marriage. “Going by the number of pleas received from adolescent girls to stop child marriages, we see an increasing trend in attempted child marriages in recent times as opposed to pre-pandemic days.
Now we get such calls more than 150 in a month,” he added.
Child marriage has always been a huge obstacle to development for countries like Bangladesh while the virus appeared to have negative effect by spreading its clutches with extra wraths on the social menace.
The issues of child marriage and violence against women and children amid pandemic got highest importance at a discussion meeting of Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs in last October.