Among the Satkhira students, 32 were of class 8-10 and 18 were SSC examinees.

In Tangail school, the girls were between 14 and 17 years of old.

The Hugra Habib Quader High School of Tangail has 1,556 students. Of them 690 are girls.

Headmaster of the school Shamim Al Mamun said many girl students of class 8-10 were absent when the school reopened on 12 September. His investigation found that 60 among the absent students got married. Besides, around 30 boy students of poor families got involved in income generating activities.

The headmaster added that child marriage was a persisting trend in the locality. When the school was open in the pre-Covid period, school authorities would intercept marriage of any of their students and would motivate the parents against the marriage of their daughters under 18 years of old. They would seek help from the administration. But the school was closed in March last year amid the outbreak of coronavirus. Since then, the teachers lost contact with their students for long. As a result, the teachers could not stop early marriage of their students.

The school’s ninth grader and a girl from Kashinagar village said her parents married her off as the school was closed. She said her father is a poor farmer. As he found an eligible groom, he arranged the marriage. Father of the girl felt relieved by arranging the marriage.

While enquired, Hugra union parishad chairman Tofazzal Hossen Khan said the people representatives were busy in combating Covid infection in last one and half years. Taking absence of regulatory surveillance as an advantage, some oblivious parents married off their daughters. If the situation was normal, there would not have been so many child marriages.

Talking about the issue, Dhaka University’s women and gender studies teacher professor Tania Haque told Prothom Alo, a concern about child marriage was expressed earlier amid the Covid-19 outbreak. Poverty and social views often instigate child marriage in the society. Disasters that cause economic crises impact on boys and girls in different ways. By marrying off their daughters, parents pass burden of rearing girl child to others’ shoulder. Such of the escaping mindset must be eliminated.

Tania Haque added that the government did not seem proactive against the Covid-induced child marriages. The government had ideas about the child marriage-prone areas. The areas required priority-basis attention of the government. On terms of not marrying their girls off, the families having school-going children needed to be brought under financial or food incentives. The trend of child marriage can still be checked with an introduction of the incentives.

Experts think that the Covid situation dragged Bangladesh behind achieving the target for eliminating child marriage. There is a target of reducing under-15 girls’ marriage to zero by 2021.

According to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics and UNICEF’s latest survey (Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2019), the rate of under-15 girls’ marriage in Bangladesh is 15.5 per cent.

The government's action plan aims to reduce the under-15 and under-18 marriage rates to 30 per cent. The UNICEF survey found that rate is 51.4 per cent now. However, the survey did not cover the situation during 2020 and 2021.

Tangail-based non-government organisation Manab Pragati Sangha executive director Mahmuda Shelly, while citing the high rate of child marriage among the students of one school, said, “The rate must be similar in the other schools around the char lands.” She recommended that initiatives of bringing back the early married girls to school must be taken.

Tangail district education officer Laila Khanam said students were regularly assigned with homework so that they kept in touch with their studies and schools. Even then, news of the girls’ early marriage came up.

"We will take initiatives so that the students do not drop out of schools," Khanam added.

*The original report appeared in print and online editions of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Sadiqur Rahman.

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