Last 73 years ago from today, in addition to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, various laws and charters spoke of equal rights for all people. But in all developed and developing countries, extreme inequality between men and women is still visible in the family, workplace and society. In 1979, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to protect women's rights. Along with 189 countries in the world, Bangladesh has also signed this charter. But in Bangladesh, women and girls are still considered as a burden. Recently, the impact of Covid-19 has raised new concerns about violence and discrimination against women!
At present, almost the whole world including Bangladesh is submerged in the terrible clutches of COVID-19! Adolescent students are almost tired of sitting at home for more than a year! Wrapped in a blanket of depression, many have already become addicted to death! Many have chosen the path of suicide again. When a student of a university like Dhaka University chooses the path of suicide out of frustration, the conscious community has been bothered about the matter! In addition, many parents living in rural-urban areas are 'marrying' their teenage daughters to protect them from social security and dowry. In other words, it is as if the parents are consciously pushing their children to the brink of death. According to research by UNFPA, UNICEF and other organizations, the rate of child marriage in Bangladesh is several times higher than before 2020. In addition, Bangladesh has the highest prevalence of child marriage in South Asia. According to another UNICEF study, despite significant advances in education-health-economics in recent years, Bangladesh has the highest prevalence of child marriage in South Asia and is ranked among the top ten countries in the world.
‘Marriage’ and its importance need to be discussed for a valid reason. We know ‘marriage’ is a social bonding so that two people can be responsible to each other. ‘Marriage’ is a sacred relationship. In a Muslim-majority country like Bangladesh, where girls are not allowed to have more than one marriage; so there is no reason to underestimate the issue of "marriage". Putting a teenager or a child in the throes of marriage like an irrational person means taking away his / her childhood, destroying his/ her potential in numbers! As a result, a nation goes to be destroyed! So, getting married at an early age is not only the gender inequality and violence, but also a violation of human rights! After all, it is not easy for a child to make decisions about marriage and to express his / her opinions.
There are many physical and mental health problems due to getting married in adolescence or childhood. Which is adversely affecting the development of the whole country. Again, only by dint of of child marriage, newly married mothers and children are likely to get various diseases. Therefore, a lot of money is spent on their treatment, which affects the family; gradually the whole country is going to be affected. On the other hand, the male spouses of adolescent wives may have lot of opportunity to be attracted by other women, that is, the tendency of polygamy increases! Which is one of the reasons for the destruction of sophisticated happiness and peace. In addition, it is not easy to enrich a child / adolescent mother physically, mentally, socially and emotionally when a newborn baby is born; that’s why the overall development of the generation continues to be hampered. So, right now is the real time to stop child marriage.
Since in a patriarchal society, almost all over the world, women have been in a backward position in the realization of their rights, so the thinking of the people in the development world, i.e. the donor groups, have been centered about women. Bangladesh, the historical country has passed almost half of a century after its independence; buy dint of various public-private programs / initiatives, women have advanced or are advancing in almost all aspects today. Women have made exemplary contributions to education, health, economics, freedom of expression, self-reliance that could not have been imagined two decades ago, and the relentless efforts of the people of the developing world have been one of the contributors. Positive discrimination programs to advance groups that are victims of gender-based violence have already been particularly well received in many sectors, although there is still much work to be done.
Various case studies of newly married (wed) adolescent brides have been found that at least 95% of teenagers are suffering from some form of problem and those who want to get free of such marital life. According to the IMAGE (Initiative for Married Adolescent Girl’s Empowerment) Plus Project, the target population in the northern region of Bangladesh, especially in the char areas, have been affected severely. If they get so much opportunity, they want to free themselves from the pain of "marriage" and are eager to rearrange their life!
I think, there is no alternative of educational institutions to bring children in their normal life who have been victims of child marriage very recently, and it is important to work in a coordinated way to make children more educated. The International experts assume with fear that Corona could lead to 4 million child marriages in the next two years. As per the study of ‘World Vision’ the renowned INGO, ‘South Sudan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh’ could be much more risky about it.
According to a report UNICEF, 39 percent of girls in Bangladesh are married before the age of 15 and 64 percent between the ages of 18. The average rate of child marriage in this country is 65 percent. But the marriage rate of girls under the age of 15 is the highest in the world where the neighboring country India has an average child marriage rate of 50 per cent, Nepal 57 per cent and Afghanistan 54 per cent. It further said that 20 percent of married girls under the age of 15 in Bangladesh become mothers of two or more children before the age of 24. As a result, maternal mortality rate and malnutrition are also increasing.
I think if child marriage is not reduced now, it will increase the rate of violence against women, maternal mortality, premature pregnancies, reproductive health problems, and will be declining the female education but will increase dropout rates, and women's ability to become economically self-sufficient will be decreased. So, there will be a lot of risk of impact. In addition, the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be hampered and Bangladesh will lag behind in global competition.
In Bangladesh, 59 percent of girls get married before the age of 18. If the necessary steps are not taken, the rate of child marriage in the country may increase further due to the ongoing coronavirus epidemic. Therefore, it is important for us to take effective steps in this regard now. The state needs to take immediate action on how to free the families of children at risk of child marriage from this curse through policy and financial assistance. Along with the government, domestic and foreign development agencies have a leading role. It is very important for every duty bearers to be aware of this. It is necessary to educate and raise awareness among adults as well as children about the negative effects of child marriage and about the latest Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017. Every section of the society and the state needs to know that child marriage is not just a personal problem now.
Since students have been living their house like a custody for more than a year, in many cases parents feel their children as burden, especially daughters, and bounding them to get married at an early age! As regards, their education and childhood are being taken away. It is as if beating the drums is killing the life of infinite potential. Eventually it is pushing the society and the state away from the family. The people from generation to generation will continue to be the victims of this prevalent loss! Overpopulation creates widespread obstacles to national development; On the other hand, deserving and dutiful people are blessed to achieve national development! Given the overall situation, the ongoing Covid-19 Pandemic now threatens to bring back progress on ending child marriage. By the need of the present age and by the national interest, the undivided cooperation of all is essential for the elimination of all irregularities, injustices, inequalities, gender-based violence. The government's special vision is needed about it. If we love this country and the people of this country well, then let us all be sensitive from our own position to eradicate child marriage irrespective of race-religion-gender-caste! Let's create a peaceful new world by freeing the society and the state from child marriage.
Writer: Md. Tanjimul Islam
Coordinator-Advocacy & Social Accountability
World Vision Bangladesh