Allout action needed to reduce child marriage

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

As per the national action plan, the government set a target to reduce the rate of child marriage in Bangladesh by one-third within 2021. But that target was not achieved. Rather, child marriage increased during the Covid period.

According to a report of UNFPA published in 2023, as much as 51 per cent girls are married off before 18 years in Bangladesh. This is the highest rate of child marriage among the Asian countries. If such is the statistics, isn’t the policymakers’ trumpeting of Bangladesh’s unstoppable progress in socioeconomic aspects is just hollowed?

It is needless to say that increase in child marriage increases the risk of early pregnancy. Marriage of girls below 18 years of age is considered as child marriage while mothers aged between 15 and 19 are called teenage mothers.

A Prothom Alo news published on Friday reported that a recent survey by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) revealed that 70 in 1,000 girls aged between 15 and 19 become mothers in the country.  As per the BBS survey, the rate of child marriage was 30 per cent in 2018. This rate increased to 40.9 per cent in 2022. Many blame the Covid situation for this increase as the rate of school dropout among the girls increased during this period.

Early pregnancy is detrimental for both mother and child. Gynecology and obstetrician professor Ferdousi Begum told Prothom Alo that a female body does not get prepared for marriage and pregnancy before 18 years. Teenage motherhood is too risky as per the definition of World Health Organisation.  60 per cent teenage mothers suffer from anemia and malnourishment. As a result, these mothers give birth to malnourished children. Early pregnancy also increases the risk of abortion.

These reasons led the government to take the initiative to reduce child marriage by one-third in the national action plan of 2021. However, the plan was not implemented nor is it likely to happen in the near future. The government is talking about bringing child marriage to zero by 2041, while on the other hand has relaxed the marriage age limit of 18 years in special cases in the Child Marriage Restraint Act enacted in 2017. Although Prothom Alo in many times maintained these as contradictory, the policymakers did not pay any heed.

Teenage motherhood puts both mother and child at serious health risk. Not only the mother and child, but also the future generations will have to suffer for this. Therefore, we do not think that there is any scope for any laxation regarding child marriage. Rather, those who break the law should be brought to book and social awareness should also be raised in this regard. It is a matter of hope that many girls from remote areas are being vocal against child marriage and a positive public opinion is also being created in the society.

SVRS in Digital Platform project director Alamgir Hossain said teenage pregnancy cannot be prevented through government initiatives only. We also agree that everyone in society has a role to play against child marriage. Mindset of the policymakers is also very important. Before the awareness of citizens’ increases, the government has to understand the depth of this problem. The government has to work to zero the child marriage and teenage pregnancy.