5 months ago

Eradicating the curse of child marriage

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Child marriage is a major social disease in our country. It has been going on in the society for a long time. According to the related law of our country, if a woman is married before reaching the age of 18 to a man before the age of 21, it is called child marriage. Therefore, it is prohibited by the law. But, according to the preliminary results of the Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey (BDHS) 2022 released in April last year, the rate of child marriage in Bangladesh was over 50 per cent. In the BDHS-2017-2018 report, the child marriage rate was around 59 per cent.

Child marriage happens in our country due to various social reasons. Financial poverty is the main cause. On the other hand, in our society there is a custom of marrying off girls at a young age. As a result, almost a half of girls in the country are victims of child marriage. However, the government has given girls the opportunity to study free of charge due to this financial crisis. On the other hand, efforts are being made to prevent child marriage by continuing the stipend for girls. Khaleda Zia's government introduced stipends to girls for free after coming to power in 1991.

Secondly, the major social reason is that boys and girls fall in love at a young age and get married against the consent of their parents. This is a big problem for parents in both rural and urban areas. Marriage without parental permission is socially frowned upon in our country. This marriage is not valid from the religious point of view. To avoid this problem, child marriage is increasing in rural areas. A boy or a girl is not mature enough to take such a decision before reaching the age of 18. Unaware of social problems or social status, lovers make wrong decisions in their attraction to each other. Later in life, this mistake causes many obstacles in life and becomes a big problem in making progress.

Child marriage causes the greatest harm to girls. Child marriage of boys is very rare. However, in some cases, boys are also getting married as children. Maternal mortality has a correlation with child marriage.

Marrying off girls at an early age puts their reproductive health at risk. Girls do not get education because of child marriage. In other words, if a girl gets married when in the eighth grade, it is not possible for her to continue her education. Or if a boy gets married while studying in 10th or 11th grade, he has to leave school or college to maintain his family. Education does not happen. On the other hand, the girl cannot pass SSC or HSC, let alone higher education. So that girl appears in the next life as a big burden for that family.

Due to child marriage, the little educated girls or uneducated girls cannot contribute to the upbringing and education of sons and daughters. She doesn't know how to raise a child. Children born to these girls cannot make much progress in education.

Child marriage is also a major barrier to higher education for girls. Now women are a half of men in society. So they should account for a half in participation of nation building. It is necessary to stop child marriage and give higher education to girls.

Marital relations between boys and girls remain unfulfilled in many cases due to child marriage. It is difficult to understand boys and girls. It brings a chaos in family life. Many times that marriage breaks up. It affects the society. Child marriage is a major cause of divorce also. If there is no equality of knowledge, the relationship between a husband and a wife frays. Therefore, child marriage is a big social and family loss.

At the event marking the launch of World Population Situation 2023, UNFPA representative Christian Blochs said, Bangladesh saw the highest incidence of child marriage in Asia. An increase in child marriage increases the risk of early pregnancy. In Bangladesh, 74 children per thousand are born to mothers aged 15 to 19 years. Child marriage has an overall impact on maternal and child health. Child marriage also increases the risk of maternal and neonatal mortality.

The Maldives has the lowest rate of child marriage in South Asia at only 2.0 per cent. In addition, 10 per cent of child marriages occurred in Sri Lanka, 18 per cent in Pakistan, 23 per cent in India, 26 per cent in Bhutan, 28 per cent in Afghanistan and 33 per cent in Nepal. Child marriage is absent in Singapore, South Korea, Finland, Norway, Belgium, Lithuania, United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.

Dhaka University Population Science Professor Mohammad Moinul Islam said there was a relationship between child marriage and maternal mortality. Reproductive health is at risk, if girls are married at an early age. He said for a long time there had been no improvement in the situation of child marriage as expected. It is not only poverty but also social behaviour that is responsible for this.

Recently, a study by the private development organization BRAC revealed that more than 10 per cent of families in Bangladesh practise child marriage. More than 51 per cent of girls are getting married off before completing secondary level education. A BRAC study titled 'Born to be a bride' revealed that 44.7 per cent of girls in 27 districts were married off before the age of 18. 6.9 per cent were under 15 years of age. The study showed that Pirojpur was the district with the highest rate of child marriage at 72.6 per cent. The lowest was in Netrakona district at 24.1 per cent. Chapainawabganj saw it at 65.2 per cent, Naogaon 65.2 per cent, Thakurgaon 62.5 per cent, Joypurhat 61.4 per cent. 44 per cent have cited getting a suitable husband as a reason for child marriage, 18 percent attributed child marriage to poverty, 10 per cent said child marriage was due to low or no dowry, 7 per cent said child marriage was due to social security, 6 per cent cited the burden of education and other reasons.

The biggest benefit of not marrying off a girl child is that the girl's health will be saved from any risk. Mature age means one will get a chance to live a longer life, can take proper care of children's health and education. If there is no child marriage, one will be able to get established in the society by taking higher education. By taking higher education and doing research, one will have the opportunity to ensure welfare of the state.

On the other hand, child marriage is the main obstacle to our Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). If child marriage can be prevented, SDG obstacles will be easily removed. Besides, there will be less divorce as early marriage leads to divorce.

A half of the country's population is women. It is not possible to build a developed Bangladesh by 2041 without development of this huge population. Stopping child marriage is necessary for a developed, prosperous, happy Bangladesh. Real development of Bangladesh is not possible without educated women.

Some issues are very important for the state machinery. The state plan should be adopted based on actual data on how many child marriages have taken place in 15 years. More initiatives should be taken to prevent child marriage by coordinating between different ministries. Prevention of child marriage is the basic responsibility of the state. A more robust and effective initiative must be taken. There is a commitment to completely eradicating child marriage by 2041. Stipends should be introduced by making education compulsory for girls till passing higher secondary examination. This tough, difficult and necessary decision must be taken by the government fast. In order to bring about a change in social attitude, scholars and leaders of the society should come forward by giving priority to the religious point of view along with various other initiatives.

The author is founder chairman of Eastern University, Islamic Finance and Investment Ltd., Australian International School and Abul Quasem Haider MohilaCollege, Sandwip, Chattogram

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