Romiz Miah (not real name) was dressed in gorgeous red Panjabi and Pagri once again in his life, at his mid Fifties. It was his second marriage after his wife passed away last year. Well it should not be my headache. Everyone has his own choice to marry. After all, there is no prohibition in this state’s law regarding the maximum age of marriage. But I was surprised knowing the bride’s age.
Rani (not real name) is only fifteen! Don’t get confused thinking that I am talking of a black and white Fifties movie. It is a fact took place in one of our working areas. A scared, pale teenage girl, wrapped in a cheap hot pink Katan Shari, sitting beside the 55 years old man with a fearful look at camera was attached in a one-pager story sent from the project area.The just married photo of this couple reminded me of the terrible things happening with teenagers around the world, compound by the lasting aftershocks of COVID-19. Sadly, during something as life-altering as a global pandemic, vulnerable families and communities are most likely to face the brunt of the choices made in distress. Parents, out of insecurity, are forced to make desperate choices for their children like early marriage or child labour. From the start of the pandemic, we have witnessed both.
We believe all humanitarian actors must advocate for more excellent protection against child marriage and other forms of gender-based violence. We need to make caregivers and parents understand that child marriage cannot be the solution.
UNICEF reports that every minute, the childhoods, dreams, and educations of 22 girls are being cut short by early marriage. Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18. By the time you’ve read this article, hundreds of girls would have lost their childhoods!
There’s no doubt that we have made progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) over the past 15 years. The number of girls marrying before age 18 has reduced from 1 in 4 globally to 1 in 5. Still, the COVID-19 outbreak seriously threatens to reverse this trend.
The most alarming fact is that 2020 saw the most significant surge in child marriage rates in 25 years. According to anecdotal data from World Vision programmes, child marriages more than doubled between March and December 2020, compared to 2019. The flood of migrants returning home during the pandemic prompted a rush of child marriages in Bangladesh. The study showed that at least 13,886 girls in 21 districts were victims of child marriages between April and October 2020. It is apprehended that an additional four million girls will be married over the next two years due to the effects of the pandemic.
According to UNICEF, 20 percent of married girls under the age of 15 in Bangladesh become mothers of two or more children before 24. As a result, maternal mortality rates and malnutrition are also on the rise. Also, mental health professionals warn that victims of child marriage can suffer from personality problems due to a lack of physical and mental development. As a result, they became a problem instead of being an asset for the nation.The reasons behind this discussion are apparent. Various government and non-government organizations are deeply concerned for the well-being of children who are at risk now. National and international friends are standing by our Government to establish the Sonar Bangla. But without ensuring that children are safely back in school instead of the kitchen, we can never establish a healthy nation.
Defiantly, our country also has made enviable progress in 50 years as well as towards achieving SDGs. But the fear is that this terrible clutch of child marriage, being an aftershock of COVID-19, could push the country backward!
We believe all humanitarian actors must advocate for more excellent protection against child marriage and other forms of gender-based violence. We need to make caregivers and parents understand that child marriage cannot be the solution. Countries without laws to prohibit child marriage should enact them, and all countries should enforce laws properly and put in place services to prevent and respond to child marriage. Our governments and donors must increase their support for ending all kinds of violence against children, including child marriage.
Do you know that globally, 21 percent of young women (ages 20-24) were married as children? Unless we accelerate our efforts to end child marriage globally, 110 million more girls under age 18 will be married by 2030. Let us protect and save these 110 million children now.
The writer is Communications Specialist (Content & Creative) at World Vision Bangladesh