The study findings were released at a virtual press conference on Saturday. Moderated by Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, executive director of COAST Foundation, the findings were presented by Jahangir Alam, assistant director of COAST.

In his keynote speech, Jahangir Alam noted that the trend not only increased in each upazila of the district, but also the high rates of increase. “Apart from Eidgaon and Ukhiya, we found out the rate in Ramu at 72 per cent, Teknaf 66 per cent, Moheskhali 61 per cent, Kutubdia 54 per cent, and Cox’s Bazar Sadar 51 per cent. Only in Chakaria (32 per cent) and Pekua (26 per cent) do they fall below 50 per cent.”

In another presentation on the multidimensional impact of child marriage, Md. Mujibul Haque Munir, joint director of COAST Foundation, said due to such high rates of child marriage, the birth rate in Bangladesh is highest in South Asia.

“Child marriage eats up nine per cent of women’s income and one per cent of national income. Eliminating child marriage by 2030 could save 11 per cent of our educational budget,” he said.

The study covered 384 families as a sample by which they or their close relatives had been involved in at least one child marriage during 2020 and 2021. Among the respondents, 63 per cent were female and 37 per cent male.

Asked about the reasons why child marriage had increased, 63 per cent of respondents said child marriage rates increased because of the Covid outbreak. Some 47 per cent said closure of schools, which was also due to the pandemic, was the main reason for increasing child marriage rates. The third-biggest reason to emerge from the survey with 26 per cent, was the economic crisis triggered by Covid-19. The fourth most important reason, reported by 22 per cent of the respondents, was unemployment leading to economic insecurity.

The study also found older generation's education to be a check against child marriage. The child marriage rate was only five per cent in families whose heads had completed higher secondary education. The rate jumped to 35 per cent among families whose heads had not completed higher secondary education, and soared beyond 50 per cent 52 per cent among families with no formal education, even if they could sign their names.

The link to poverty is also established, as the rate of child marriage was by far the highest (64 per cent) in low-income families. It almost exactly halved (32 per cent) in the middle-income families, and dropped to just four per cent in the well-off segment.

While commenting on the prevention of child marriage in their community, choosing multiple answers, 65 per cent of respondents said, stopping fake birth registration is the key to prevent child marriage.

Some 64 per cent said, the opening of schools is the key, while 38 per cent said effective implementation of law and order, and 32 per cent said financial support to the children’s families vulnerable to child marriage and raising awareness to the community will help reduce child marriage.