At the roundtable, Farida Pervin, director general of the department of women affairs said, the women affairs ministry and the department are working to implement the government’s commitment to eradicate child marriage from the country by 2041. Highlighting various programmes like a ‘gender responsive’ budget for women empowerment and the Kishore-Kishori club (youth club) project taken up by the government, she added there is no alternative to increasing synchronisation between the work done on government and private levels to bring down the child marriage rate.

Nurunnahar Begum, line director (CCSDP), Directorate General of Family Planning, said when she was a student of Class Eight, marriage proposals came for her. She was delighted at that without understanding. But her father clearly rebuffed them, saying he won’t marry off any of his four daughters or son off until they finish their higher studies. Finally that is what happened. She added, because of her father’s decision she is now able to work.

Liza Talukdar, project management specialist, USAID, focused on different aspects of the Ujjiban project including prevention of child marriage. She said gender based violence escalated during the corona period. Gender equality is essential for sustainable development. Participation of women and children in decision making has to be ensured.

Faisal Mahmud, chief of USAID Ujjiban project and country director of Johns Hopkins CCP said, women have progressed a lot. At the same time, it is sad that we are talking about child marriage and other violence, even in this 21st century. Mentioning that men’s involvement in preventing violence against women is vital he said, many things including resistance to child marriage, availing services, assistance in household chores, will become easier that way.

‘Implementation of law needs attention’

Ali Asghar, public prosecutor, Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal, remarked that people involved in child marriage resort to various means including fake birth certificates and increasing age through Notary Public to avoid child marriage lawsuits. Now in many instances, the accused of rape cases are being acquitted by marrying the victim. These issues require attention.

Hazera Begum, president of Shishuder Jonno Amra, a rehabilitation centre for deprived children, questioned why eminent persons who attend child marriage ceremonies are not brought under law by police.

Government helplines

Nahid Sharmin, gender specialist, Aspire to Innovate (a2i), talked about 333-government hotline numbers for stopping child marriage. She said, women’s involvement in using this hotline number is increasing. Last month 150 child marriage related calls came in.

Chowdhury Mohammad Mohaimen, project manager of the government’s helpline for children 1098 said that after receiving calls for preventing child marriage, arrangements are made for immediate assistance.

Inspector Anwar Sattar of National Emergency Service 999 said, over the last four years, more than 30 million (3 crore) calls came in asking for various assistance. Of them, 4,658 calls came in for prevention of child marriage in 2021 and the marriages were averted. A total of 7,161 calls related to violence against women were recorded in 2021.

Faisal Mahmud, chief of USAID Ujjiban project, mentioned that in many cases while trying to avail services on government helpline numbers 109 and 999 to prevent child marriage, people try to hand over the responsibility to each other. He said coordination is needed to solve this problem.

Mushfiqua Zaman Satiar, senior advisor (SRHR and Gender) Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Dhaka said, the reference of girls being allowed to be married off at any age in the special provision of Child Marriage Restraint Act had covered up all other issues. Mentioning two projects, she said girls did not fail in subjects like English and Mathematics as tuition were arranged for them under those projects. They got the chance to carry on their studies. Along with making arrangements of income generating work for girls, they were made aware of gender issues as well. As a result, the parents of those girls did not want to marry them off.

‘Awareness must be increased’

Mumit al Rashid, president of Prothom Alo Bondhushava national committee, highlighted the importance of voluntary social organisations in accelerating social awareness.

Fakhrul Shawon, programme head, Radio Today said, women’s success stories have to be promoted and published more on media.

Tamanna Islam, executive committee member, Prothom Alo Sylhet Bondhushava; Ruhul Amin, president, Cox’s Bazar Bondhushava and Seema Chanda, member, Sylhet Bondhusava shared their experiences of preventing child marriage on the field level.

Abdul Quayum, associate editor, Prothom Alo gave the welcome speech at the roundtable. Firoz Choudhury, assistant editor, Prothom Alo moderated the programme.