Child marriage: Will the government wait for 215 years?

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

Despite making great progress in the socioeconomic sector, it is shameful that Bangladesh is ahead of all South Asian countries in child marriage.

The third paragraph of Section 2 of the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017 states that the minimum age of marriage for men and women is 21 and 18 years respectively. If anyone gets married below this age limit, it will be considered as minor or child marriage.

Child marriage is not only a social evil but also a punishable offence. The terrifying picture of child marriage in Bangladesh came up in an event organised by the ministry of women and children affairs, UNFPA and UNICEF on 5 June.

It was stated in the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2019, conducted by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) and UNICEF, that the rate of child marriage under 18 years was 64 per cent back in 2006, 52 per cent in 2012 and 51 per cent in 2019.

According to that statistics, 41.5 million (4.15 crore) girls and women in the country are married and mother of children now. Child marriage doesn’t only destroy the life of a girl, but the burden of that has to be borne by the future generations as well.  

Even if the rate at which child marriage has been declining in the last ten years gets doubled, the child marriage rate of Bangladesh in 2030 will be around 30 per cent. However, the government has a sustainable development goal of eliminating child marriage completely by 2030.

UNFPA country representative Kristine Blokhus stated that the child marriage rate in Bangladesh has been declining by two per cent every year. If it continues reducing at the same rate it would take 215 years to eradicate child marriage altogether from Bangladesh.

Now the question is, will the government wait for 215 years reducing child marriage at the rate of two per cent or give it their best shot to meet the sustainable development goal?

State minister for women and children affairs Simeen Hussain Rimi said that it’s not possible for the government to eradicate child marriage on its own. Without refuting her statement we want to raise the question, is the government making efforts to meet their goal?  

Alike many other problems, a sort of complacence can be noticed among the policymakers of the government also in the case of preventing child marriage. Otherwise why would we fall behind so much in preventing child marriage?

Some of the people concerned referred to the Covid period as a cause for the rise in child marriage. But the Covid outbreak raged in all the countries of South Asia. When they could get over it, why couldn’t we?

There’s no alternative to taking multidimensional steps and involving people from all walks of life in the society for preventing child marriage. The statement of a madrasa student at that event inspired us.

He has made his parents agree to let their daughter continue with her studies. When many other youths like him come forward, a social uprising will be created against child marriage.  

The revolution against child marriage has to be started from the family indeed. Local administration, marriage registrar, public representatives and teachers have to assume an active role so that no guardian can marry their daughters off before turning 18.

At the same time, those who will commit the crime of child marriage by flouting the law have to be brought to book. If someone in the locality gets punished for child marriage, others won’t find the courage to do the same.

Hopefully, the government won’t wait for 215 years to prevent child marriage. Even if they can’t do it within 2030, they should free the country of child marriage by at least 2041 as they have made a commitment of building a smart Bangladesh by 2041.

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