Women must be included in social development to build a modern and progressive society. Although urban women have progressed significantly, women in rural and remote areas are still lagging behind. One of the major obstacles they face there is child marriage. Child marriage either in urban or rural areas should be prevented in order to achieve women rights.

Child marriage has been reduced significantly due to stern action by the law enforcement and administration. But the Covid pandemic has been a jinx to the young girls in mid-income countries like ours. Educational institutions were closed for almost 18 months while the administration was busy tackling the spread of Covid. In the meantime another pandemic of child marriage hit our country and we realised this a little late.

Educational institutions were closed in two phases across the country. A recent study conducted by non-government development organisation BRAC revealed that child marriage has increased 13 per cent during Covid pandemic which is the highest in 25 years in the country.

Manusher Jonno Foundation in a study showed, Bangladesh witnessed an average of 65 child marriages every day during pandemic. As many as 13,886 child marriages were registered in seven months across 84 upazila of 21 districts. The picture must be very grim in all over the country in last two years.

This happened as the low-income and poor families lost their source of income. The districts and upazila in which the poverty rate went up during Covid period must be taken into account. At the same time, accurate data of child marriage or an extensive database should be developed. This is because there is still time to work on many important issues such as re-engaging girls in education who have been victims of child marriage, training them for employment, avoiding risky pregnancies and ensuring healthcare.

The Bangladesh government to free the country of child marriage by 2041. The Covid pandemic will certainly act as a major deterrent here. While there is still plenty of time for that goal, it is possible to meet that commitment through feasible integrated plan, both in public and private level. Disadvantaged, indigent and poor families need to be reassured that they need not see their children as burdens.

Prothom Alo's roundtable discussion on child marriage has raised some suggestions to prevent child marriage. In particular, coordination between public and private sector is very important. In addition to increasing stipends, poultry, cattle and goat rearing should be further boosted.

The campaign against the child marriage offence and its laws needs to be intensified. The local administration can organise yard meetings in risky areas by involving grassroots representatives, imams of mosques, teachers and other professionals.

The role of qazis (marriage registrars) is important in stopping child marriage. They have to be given proper training and those who violate rules have to be brought under severe punishment. The people are facing all sorts of difficulties to get birth certificates as many child marriages have taken place by hiding the actual age.

A unique ID card can be made immediately after the birth of the child, based on which it will be easier to create a birth registration certificate in the future. In short, to build a balanced society, child marriage must be prevented. There should be no delay in taking effective and sustainable steps for this. We have suffered great losses due to the pandemic.