Plan International Bangladesh, Swedish Embassy in Dhaka and RDRS jointly organised the roundtable discussion on ' Violation of Child Rights by Child Marriage: Prevention and Progress'.
With the support of development agency Plan International, RDRS works with a model titled ‘Building Better Future for Girls’ in nine upazilas, 73 unions and 3 pourashavas (municipalities) of Kurigram to develop a better future for the Bangladeshi girls.
Project manager Md Nazrul Islam Chowdhury presented the model at the discussion. He said an effective model to prevent child marriage can be developed by creating a specific plan through the early marriage prevention committee, law enforcement, making a database of marriages, creating awareness among the people involved in child marriage such as the Qazi (marriage registrar), parents and girls at the risk of early marriage to boost their confidence, creating a network between the youth and teenage girls and by running awareness campaigns at schools.
Using this model from 2017 to 2019, the rate of early marriage of girls below 18 years of age was reduced by 22 per cent in Kurigram. The rate of early marriage of girls under 15 years of age was reduced by some 5 per cent.
According to the monthly statistics on child marriage, some 94 marriages were recorded on average per month in 2019 in Kurigram district. The number was 36 and 31 in 2020 and 2021 respectively. Around 12,000 girls are at the risk of early marriage. Of them, some 3,500 are at the high risk of early marriage.
Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs and former state minister for the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, said at the discussion that the government is 100 per cent committed to prevent early marriage and several initiatives are being taken in this regard. Everyone, including government and non-government organisation, should work collectively from their respective places to increase awareness against child marriage. The media should come forward as well. She further said not only the girls but also the boys should say no to child marriage.
Sadeka Halim, dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Dhaka, said the rate of child marriage is still 51 per cent. Such is the situation in the society that the parents become desperate to marry their children off at an early age. At one end child marriage cannot be prevented due to legal flexibility, on the other the girl child is becoming more marginalised and powerless through the marriage.
Paola Castro Neiderstam, Second Secretary of the Swedish Embassy in Dhaka and Program Specialist, Human Rights, Democracy and Gender Equality, stressed the importance of gender equality and that child marriage is a violation of basic human rights of girls. In addition, child marriage implies a series of associated risks for these girls, such as violence and serious health complications associated with pregnancies at too young of an age. Ending child marriage is a commitment under the SDGs, namely SDG 5. Progress on SDG 5 is important also for progressing several other of the total 17 SDGs.
Chowdhury Mohammad Mohaimen, project director of national child helpline 1098, emphasised on preventing early marriage of the boys as well. Due to financial reasons, youth under 21 years of age are also being married off.
Plan International’s director (girl’s right), Kashfia Firoz said a recent survey conducted by her organisation revealed that child marriage also takes place out of fear of violence. Besides, child marriages were also caused by factors such as fear of losing family reputation, leaving a teenage girl alone at home, sexual harassment and rape and the fear of breaching religious values.
Former Additional Inspector General of Police Mokhlesur Rahman said it was difficult to bring people out of a hundred years of practice like child marriage just by working on a project basis. If there is a law in place to bring about any social change, that law must be enforced first. He proposed to give scholarships to girls till the age of 18, giving priority to prevention of child marriage.
Ishtiaque Reza, the editor in chief of GTV, said lack of empowerment played a more significant role behind child marriage. He said the parents did not actually marry off the girl, but handed her over to someone. It was known from the field level that the government officials responsible for preventing child marriage are inactive and there is no help from the people's representatives either. The state needs to be proactive against digital propaganda by a vested quarter.
Monira Nazmi Jahan, a teacher of the law department at the Eastwest University, said there was lack of consistency between the age of the child in various laws including child marriage prevention law, the punishment of rape under the Women and Child Repression Prevention Act, the penal code for marital rape and the Child Act-2013. These issues of the law should be addressed and preventive measures should be taken.
Mohammad Abdul Wahed, president of the Bangladesh Muslim Nikah (marriage) Registrar's Association in Dhaka district, said that in order to prevent child marriage, an app like the ‘Surokkha’ app for Covid vaccination should be developed where the bride and groom would need to register using the birth registration certificate and passport or national identity card number in order to get married. The qazis would get them married only after they completed the registration process.
Tanjila Tasnim, an 11th grader of Motijheel Ideal School and College, said they know less about where to go and whom to contact to prevent early marriage.
Sardar Akib Latif, a class XI student of Dhaka Residential Model College, said that young boys should be more involved in the awareness campaigns against child marriage.