KURIGRAM: Child marriages are witnessed on rise in different part of the country amid the coronavirus pandemic as many people became jobless and educational institutes were closed to contain the spread of the deadly virus.
Many poor families of the rural areas sent their children to school as schools run the midday meals programme which eased their burden of feeding children, reports UNB.
Especially in Kurigram, the rate of child marriage is increasing rapidly, cannot be contained in any way. The girl students of this area are now living in their husband’s houses at an early age.
More than 500 schoolgirls belonging to 43 educational institutions of Fulbari Upazila were married off during this pandemic, confirmed Upazila Secondary Education Officer Md Abdul Hai.
The highest number of child marriages were reported of students in the Borovita Girls’ High School and Borovita High School in Borovita union of the upazila.
Around 87 girls in Borovita Girls’ High School and 55 girls including three SSC examinees in Borovita High School have been the victim of child marriage, said the headmasters of the schools.
Md Matiur Rahman Khandaker, the headmaster of Borovita Girls’ High School said, “Based on preliminary information, we have received data of marriages of 87 students of 6th to 10th grade and SSC candidates.”
“However, the actual number may increase further,” said the headmaster.
He also said the Upazila Secondary Education Officer has been informed through a detailed letter containing names and other information.
In Borovita Girls’ High School, two students of class 6, eleven students of class 7, seventeen of class 8, twenty-eight of class 9, fourteen of class 10 and 13 SSC examinees became victims of this debilitating social disease ‘child marriage’.
Before the closure of educational institutions due to the pandemic, the average attendance of students in this school was 70-90 percent per day. After reopening, it is down to 40-50 percent.
Many students, including Nupur, Ashamoni, Nasima and Atika Khatun, eighth-graders at the school, said on the very first day of school after reopening on September 12. they were upset to hear of the marriage of as many as 17 of their friends.
Attending school after so many days, these students are more upset although they were supposed to be happy. Moreover, they are also anxious about their future.
Another ninth-grader of this school Sumi Akhter said, “When I came to school, I saw 28 of my friends were absent. Later I came to know that 85 to 90 students of my school including my friends got married.”
“I am also afraid of what will happen to my future.”
Badsha Mia, father of a ninth-grader Bithi Khatun who was a victim of child marriage in that institution, said, “We are poor people. I earn my bread by driving a van. I found a suitable boy for my daughter and so I married her off.”
Bablu Mia, another father of a student of this school who also married his daughter off during this pandemic, said, “I am a cycle mechanic and my family somehow survive with this little income. However, during the pandemic, we had to live in hardship as we didn’t get any financial assistance from anywhere.”
“Besides, I was worried as my daughter is growing up. So, when getting a proposal from a suitable guy, I married her off and now I’m feeling guilty for ruining my daughter’s future.”
The headmaster of Borovita Girls’ High School Md Matiur Rahman Khandaker has stopped child marriages of 25 to 30 students in his school in the last one and a half years before the pandemic. However, 85 students of his institution fall victim of child marriage during pandemic because of communication barriers.
Borovita High School headmaster Md Sharif Uddin Mia blamed poverty.
He said most of the students’ families live in sandbar areas and they are from poor families. The trend of child marriage has increased due to the closure of schools. If the school remained open, there would not have been so many child marriages.
“Many married people have already started coming to school. I hope the rest will come very soon,” said the headmaster.
In this regard, Upazila Secondary Education Officer Mohammad Abdul Hai said according to the information given by 43 secondary and lower secondary institutions of the upazila, a total of 523 girl students were married off in those institutions. “We are also collecting data from 73 educational institutions of this upazila.”
He further said they have instructed the home visits of the teachers of all the institutions. “We have already started work to collect the actual information of these students as well as to make them come back to school.”
In addition, the headmaster Md Matiur Rahman Khandaker said, “We are also going to the homes of the students who are married off. I am alerting the parents to let their daughter come to the school. We are working to make students head to school again.”
Meanwhile, Fulbari Upazila Nirbahi Officer Sumon Das said, “We have started with various kinds of programmes including meetings and rallies on how to prevent child marriage.” He called upon the people’s representatives of each union and the civil society to build resistance against child marriage.
Kurigram District Education Officer (DEO) Md Shamsul Alam said information on child marriage in all the upazilas has not been received yet.
The DEO further said that the married students are already going to school. Hopefully, the number of student attendance will gradually increase.
However, the way child marriage is increasing at an alarming rate is really a matter of concern for the future. He urged everyone to work together to prevent child marriage and save the future of these girl students.