HASINA VOWS TO END CHILD MARRIAGE
Bangladesh has made strides in girls’ education and gender parity but child marriage remains a problem.
There is an old Bengali saying: “Kuritey buri”. It means a woman is old when she turns 20 and therefore less valuable for marriage.
But decades ago, the Bangladesh government and NGOs invented a counter-slogan to help reduce childhood marriage rates: “I don’t get old at 20 and I won’t marry before that age”.
Though it helped middle class families’ underage marriage rates, the marriages persist in rural areas and poor communities.
“The government figures may have shown a reduction in child marriage, but it’s still a very serious problem,” Bangladesh Women’s Council President Ayesha Khanam told Khabar South Asia. “The biggest obstacle to ending child marriage in Bangladesh is poverty and security.”
Some 66% of Bangladeshi women between 20 and 24 were compelled to marry before age 18, according to UNICEF . Official government statistics show the marriage rate for women aged 15 to 18 dropped to 32.5% in 2011 from 37.5% in 2001.
At last month’s World Girl Summit 2014 in London, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said Bangladesh seeks to eliminate girls being married off before age 15 and also reduce marriage rates for women aged 15 to 18 by a third by 2021.
Co-osted by the British government and UNICEF, the one-day summit on July 22nd focused on child marriages and forced marriages, among other issues.
Marriages forced on children
“We have introduced mobile courts in the district, but still can’t stop this,” Nirbahi Upazilla Officer Nazneen Sultana told Khabar about the past four months of marriages in Meherpur district in western Bangladesh. “Out of 200 child marriages, we could stop only 57.”
Jahnagir Alam, a lead school teacher in Mujibnagar upazilla in Kushtia district, said, “Most of these marriages are being forced upon by their parents. And all these girls have stopped coming to school.”
Khanam said many parents still believe early marriage makes girls “polite and obedient”. Older girls have higher dowries and “lose their attraction if they get older”, she added.
Women and Children Affairs State Minister Meher Afroze Chumki told Khabar the government is considering special projects to address child marriage .
“We’ve already started the work in this regard,” she said
Chumki added “it is not enough to make laws” and things would improve “only if poverty and superstition can be eliminated from the society”.
AUGUST 24, 2014