When asked if her daughter has stopped being so whimsical, she replied, “No completely, as yet.”

Another member of the ‘Kishori Sangha’ and a Class 7 female student (13) of the same school was married off almost at the same time. She also hasn’t resumed her studies since.

If the couple wants a divorce, they have to get it through arbitration. The girl doesn't get any legal rights
Nazmun Nahar, Satkhira’s Tala upazila women affairs officer

Child marriage is considered a big obstacle for female education. In the grim backdrop of child marriages, the National Girl Child Day is being observed today, 30 September, with the theme, “ “Rights of the girl child is the pledge of the times”.

This year, the day will be officially observed on 4 October and 3-10 October will be observed the Children’s Rights Week.

In light of the increase in the number of child marriages during the Covid-19 pandemic, under the ‘Integrated Rural Employment Support Project for the Poor Women’ (IRESPPW) of the Bangladesh Rural Development Board (BRDB), the ‘Kishori Sangha’ project started on 31 March.

A total of 118 schools in 59 upazilas of 15 different districts were part of the pilot project for five years. From each school, 100 girls became members of the ‘Kishori Sangha’.

The parents of the member girls would deposit Tk 200 every month, and the government would contribute another Tk 200. Later, the total Tk 400 would be handed to the guardians of the girls.

Eight schools from four upazilas in Satkhira are part of ‘Kishori Sangha’. The project in-charge in the Sadar upazila, assistant rural development officer Mridul Sarkar told Prothom Alo, “The government has undertaken a lot of initiatives. But if the parents don’t become more aware, it would be difficult to stop child marriage.”

Child marriages not stopping

On 18 September, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) published a survey report titled, “Child marriage in Bangladesh during the Covid-19”. As per the report, 76 per cent of the girls who fell victim to child marriage in 2020 and 2021 did not return to school.

In the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, 27 per cent of girls between the ages of 15-19 were married off according to a survey conducted by non-government Organisation Manusher Jonno Foundation on 2,820 girls from 20 districts in last year’s December and January of the running year.

A recent report from the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education (DSHE) shows that more than 47 thousand female students from 11,679 secondary schools were victim of child marriage in 2021. These students didn’t take part in last year’s annual exam of their respective schools.

In-laws decide on girl’s education

The mother of a girl from Kushtia Sadar, who has fallen victim to child marriage, said, her daughter was supposed to sit for the SSC exam this year. But her in-laws told her that they won’t allow her to continue her studies anymore.

In the same locality, the mother of another victim of child marriage told Prothom Alo that her daughter’s in-laws don’t want her to go to school anymore.

A man from the district’s Kumarkhali upazila said that his wife was studying in ninth standard when they got married and he has decided that she will no longer attend school.

The adolescent girls mentioned above took part in the Manusher Jonno Foundation’s survey. Mukti Nari-O-Shishu Unnayan Sangstha, a local non-government organisation, conducted the survey for Manusher Jonno Foundation.

The coordinator of that local NGO Shiekh Zayedul Haque told Prothom Alo, from September 2020, till August of this year, they conducted a survey in two phases and found that 422 female students from five schools have dropped out. Out of them, 262 were victim of child marriage.

‘The rate of child marriage has gone down’

Saying that child marriages don’t get registered, the women affairs officer of Satkhira’s Tala upazila Nazmun Nahar told Prothom Alo that later, for any reason if the couple wants a divorce, they have to get it through arbitration. The girl doesn't get any legal rights.

The chief administrator of a child marriage resistance committee in Satkhira Md Sakibur Rahman feels that in order to stop child marriages, the local child marriage prevention committees have to play an active role.

Director general of department of women affairs Farida Parveen told Prothom Alo that the government has undertaken many initiatives to prevent child marriage and a helpline number (109) for child marriage prevention is currently open.

She further said that according to government data, the rate of child marriage is going down. Moreover, some upazilas have become completely free of child marriage.

*This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ashfaq-Ul-Alam Niloy