Child marriage continues on various pretexts

The girl used to sing and dance at various events of the NGO-run Kishore Kishori Club but when she was in Class 7 she was married off during the Eid holidays at the end of 2022. Her studies and club activities ended, and now weak and feeble, she is a mother of an eight-month-old infant.

She is 14 years old as per the birth certificate and lives at her in-laws’ house in Atmul union on Shibganj upazila of Bogura. She spoke to Prothom Alo there on 18 April. It was 11 o’clock. The baby was asleep. They live in a tin-shed and mud-floor house. We sat on plastic chairs and began the conversation. The girl said she participated in various events of the NGO Thengamara Mohila Sabuj Sangha’s (TMSS) Kishore Kishori Club. She even attended an event five days before her marriage.

Replying to a query on why parents married her off at such a young age, she smiled shyly and replied, “Parents married me off to fulfil the wish of my grandmother. They said the times and the society nowadays are not good. They got a good groom so they married me off.” The girl’s father drives a battery-run auto rickshaw and she is the eldest one among four sisters. Her husband works at a brick kiln. So, why did she stop studying? The husband does not want it, she said.

While leaving the house, Prothom Alo correspondents met with her sister-in-law, who is 16 and was tacking hay. She said she was married to a Malaysian expat over a mobile phone a year ago and is yet to meet her husband.

The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) released a report on the trend of child marriage in districts and upazilas last April. The report said Bogura is one of three districts with a higher child marriage rate; the remaining two are Jaypurhat and Chapainawabganj. In Bogura, the rate of marriage among girls below 18 is over 63; the figures are over 20 per cent among girls below 15 while Shibganj and Sariakandi upazilas have the highest rate of child marriage – 63 per cent and 65 per cent respectively.

According to BBS, the rate of marriage among girls below 18 in the country was over 63 per cent – a 1 per cent up from 2022 and a 10 per cent up from 2021.

This correspondent visited Atmul and Shibganj unions, Shibganj municipality of Bogura’s Shibganj upazila and the remote char village of Shimultair in Sariakandi upazila on 17 and 18 April. After talking to locals, was clear that child marriage is common here. A mother who married off her daughter during an Eid holiday said, “Young girls adapt with everyone in the family, which is why everyone wants to marry young girls. If I raise my daughter overcoming my hardship, when she grows up she will marry at her own will. Will I accept it?”

Remote char Shimultair is in Chaluabaru union of Sariakandi upazila. It takes both river and road journeys to reach there. The daughter of the village’s marriage register Md Dulaluddin did not continue her studies after Class 5. He married off his daughter during an Eid holiday. Several locals called it a child marriage, but Dulaluddin claimed his daughter was 19.

State Minister for Women and Children Affairs Simeen Hussain Rimi holds ignorance and lack of social awareness responsible for child marriage. She told Prothom Alo the ministry is finding out the main reasons, as well as committees to prevent child marriage are being more effective.

Other pretexts for child marriage

TMSS works in prevention of child marriage. TMSS’ joint director Md Kamruzzaman Khan said from his experience of working a field level in this issue that poverty was once mainly blamed for child marriage but the reality has now changed. Now child marriage is taking place on pretext such as children are being led astray by smartphones.

None of the victims of child marriage this correspondent talked to had their marriages registered. Although the guardians have differences of opinion over other issues, they were in consensus on the question of child marriage. No one wants to inform the administration about child marriage of other families. They use long holidays of post-annual examination breaks, holidays of Eid and Ramadan to marry off their children.

According to TMSS information, a total 18 girls who were members of its youth clubs were married off during this Eid ul Fitr holiday.

Amid so much unsettling news, one incident from Paschim Jahangirabad village in Shibganj Sadar union brought some respite. A girl from this village thwarted her marriage. The girl passed HSC examination last year and now waits to get admitted to university. The girl said she saw the plights of victims of child marriage from nearby places and that led her to raise objection to her marriage.

Rasheda K Chowdhury, former adviser to a caretaker government and executive director of Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE), said success will come if all the mechanisms the government has to prevent child marriage can be activated properly.

She said Bangladesh advanced in women development but stumbling due to child marriage. This is harming the country’s image globally. The guardians will have to be sensitised that the girls can be educated and self-reliant to be made good citizens.

The girl who prevented her own marriage vowed to be self-reliant.

“I will marry later. I want to stand on my feet so that I don’t become a burden for my parents in case of any problem with the family,” the girl said.

Anowar Parvez from Bogura contributed to this report.