Child marriage has become unstoppable in Satkhira’s Tala upazila. In most cases after the child marriage is prevented, guardians are marrying their daughters off later secretly at home or taking them elsewhere.
Around 74 per cent of all the child marriages prevented by Tala upazila women affairs office since July last year till June of the current year, took place later on.
It was learned from Tala Upazila women affairs office sources that a total of 88 child marriages were prevented in the upazila within that period of time.
A survey on the prevented child marriage was conducted in the first week of last September with the help of 27 members of upazila women affairs department’s youth club.
The survey report says, 65 of the 88 child marriages, prevented in between July 2021 and June 2022, have taken now place. In fact, six of them have ended in divorce.
Shampa Goshwami, executive director of Perona Nari Unnayan Sangathan, an organisation working to prevent child marriage, told Prothom Alo, it’s difficult for the administration or the non-government organisations to stop child marriage alone.
She believes, girls studying in class seven to ten are more prone to fall victim of child marriage. Before everything else, girl have to be warned against the evils of child marriage in the classroom every day.
They should object as well as inform the local administration, if their parents or guardians want to marry them off before turning 18.
In addition, guardians and local public representatives have to be made aware too. Strict measures have to be taken, if someone organises or performs a child marriage in secrecy.
Guardians of some girls, who got married after being saved from child marriage once, are claiming the girls eloped without their knowledge or consent.
Others say they are poor so they were forced to marry their daughters off upon finding a good match, thinking of social security.
A father, Akhtarul Islam from Nagarghata union in the upazila, said, they arranged for their daughter to get married in November last year. However, officials from upazila women affairs department came and stopped that marriage, for the girl wasn’t 18 yet.
Deeming it to be a good match, they married the girl off with the same groom two months later. But, the girl was tortured for dowry just within two months of the marriage.
At one point, his daughter got divorced. Her father added that he got his daughter admitted to a local school after the divorce.
However Tarak Das, a guardian from Sarulia Union of the upazila said otherwise. He said, the women affairs department stopped their daughter’s marriage in October last year, for the girl was not 18 yet. Three months after the marriage was stopped from taking place, their daughter fell in love with a boy and eloped with him. She only returned home after she was assured of being married off to him. Later, he arranged for the marriage to take place.
Yet another woman from the same union put the blame on the daughter. The mother said, her daughter had a relationship with a boy. They arranged for their daughter to be married off with that boy in October last year. People coming from the women affairs department stopped the marriage ceremony and made her sign a bond. But she eloped and married that boy two months from then.
Usually the president of the child marriage prevention committee on the union level is headed by the union parishad chairman of the same union.
When asked about initiatives for the prevention of child marriage, Sarulia UP chairman Abdul Hai told Prothom Alo on Monday, guardians do submit bonds with their signatures to the upazila nirbahi officer. Later, they take away their daughters to some other districts or to some relative’s house and marry them off secretly. They get to know of the marriage only after it’s done and there’s nothing to do about it.
Tala upazila women affairs officer Nazmun Nahar said, child marriages cannot be stopped with bonds or fines. After stopping the marriage once, guardians are marrying their daughters off in secrecy taking them to another place. The official further added that it’s impossible to eliminate child marriage without public awareness.
It also requires monitoring to ensure that after being saved from child marriage once, no girl can be married off before turning 18. Most of the union level child prevention committees are not active either.
The women affairs department is low on the staff and has no vehicles at their disposal. Plus, there’s no allocation for stopping child marriage. In many cases, local public representatives themselves get involved with child marriages in different ways, let alone help preventing it.
Former caretaker government advisor Rasheda K Choudhury told Prothom Alo, one thing to note at the moment is that upon receiving news of a child marriage taking place, women affairs officers as well as officers of the administration are taking initiative to stop it.
They are stopping the child marriage from happening as well. But what happens next? The information of Tala upazila alone bears proof that in most cases the marriages are taking place later secretly or in any other ways. This is where the issue of surveillance is necessary.
Rasheda K Choudhury, who is also executive director of campaign for popular education (CAMPE), said the officials that stopped child marriage will definitely be applauded. However, it’s a request to those officers that they keep the incidents under surveillance.
According to Rasheda K Choudhury, local government especially the local chairman has to be held accountable for preventing child marriage. If a child marriage takes place after being stopped once, it has to be brought under accountability. And, the committees there are to prevent child marriage at the local level have to be activated as well.
This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Nourin Ahmed Monisha