14,000 child marriages in 21 districts during 7 months of Covid

During the seven months of coronavirus in 2020, a total of 13,886 child marriages took place in 84 upazilas of 21 districts in the country. This was revealed in a survey, 'Rapid analysis of the child marriage situation during coronavirus 2020'.

The results of the survey were revealed at a webinar on Thursday. The survey was conducted by the non-government organisation Manusher Jonno Foundation (MFJ) with the support of UNFPA, UNICEF and Plan International. MFJ executive director Shaheen Anam chaired the webinar. The foundation's coordinator Arpita Das and senior manager Giasuddin Ahmed presented the survey findings.

The survey was conducted in Dhaka, Manikganj, Cumilla, Barishal, Barguna, Rangamati, Kishoreganj, Sirajganj, Chattogram, Lakshmipur, Jamalpur, Jashore, Naogaon, Kushtia, Kurigram, Nilphamari, Thakurgaon, Gaibandha, Sunamganj and Sylhet. A total of 21,258 respondents took part in the survey. The respondents included unmarried girls of the 10 to 19 year-old age group, girls who were married before 18 years of age, parents of girls of the 10 to 19 year-old age group, local government representatives, UNO, local officials of the women's affairs directorate, marriage registrars, local leaders, teachers, police and others.

Shaheen Anam

The survey results revealed that the parents were responsible for 78 per cent of the child marriages. And 4,866 child marriages were registered by the marriage (nikah) registrar. Among the respondents, 37 per cent knew about at least one child marriage through their neighbours.

The survey stated that the low-income people faced all sorts of problems during the corona pandemic. They lost their incomes, their small businesses were destroyed. These challenges were exacerbated by various social and cultural rites and beliefs, pushing up the rate of child marriage.

Of the respondents, 30 per cent said that increased poverty during coronavirus and failure to meet the basic needs of the family was a major reason behind child marriage. The other reasons were loss of income which worsened poverty, prevailing social rites and beliefs, school closure, parents' hoping to receive benefits through child marriage and the possibility of lower dowry.

Eiko Narito

UNFPA deputy representative Eiko Narita said poverty was a major cause of child marriage. She said, alongside alleviating poverty, facilities for girls would also have to be increased. Preventing marriage amounted to saving lives.

UNICEF deputy representative Veera Mendonca called upon all to cooperate with the government in preventing child marriage. She stressed the need for an integrated mindset to stop child marriage.

According to the survey, 10.6 per cent of the girls themselves halted their child marriage. They called the 999 number and received response.

Among the respondents, 96 per cent said that child marriage must stop.

Two girls, who had managed to escape child marriage, spoke at the event. They are Halima Akhter of Kurigram and Seema Akhter of Gaibandha. The speakers praised the courage of these two girls.

Md Muhibuzzaman

Joint secretary of the women and children's affairs ministry, Md Muhibuzzaman, said parents thought they could solve their problems by giving their girls in child marriage. But in actuality it just created larger problems. He said that parents, marriage registrars and the local administration had a significant role to play in stopping child marriage.

Maleka Banu

General secretary of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, Maleka Banu, said it was seen that during the pandemic, girls were considered to be a burden. She called for making marriage registration digital as a deterrent to child marriage.

The respondents' recommendations included increasing girl's social safety, financial benefits for low income people, making birth certificate compulsory to prove age, and mobilising awareness against child marriage through family consultations and the media. Also recommended was sensitisation of the law enforcement agencies and service providers, strengthening the role of the union parishads, activating 24hr helplines others than 999, increasing the involvement of religious leaders in preventing child marriage, increasing monitoring and accountability, and creating monitoring committees comprising youth.