The United Nations wants Bangladesh to significantly improve social indicators as the country expects to become a middle-income one by 2021.
“Middle income is measured by GDP but I want you to become a middle-income country in all senses,” added UNFPA Representative in Bangladesh Argentina Matavel Piccin, pointing at high maternal mortality, child marriage and gender-based violence rates.
According to government data, 65 percent of girls are married off before the age of 18 years while 69 percent of deliveries take place at homes, leading to the highest maternal mortality rate, 194 per lakh, in Asia.
Moreover, 87 percent of women experienced violence by their husbands, states the data.
“These are alarming numbers,” Piccin told journalists in the capital's United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) office on March 6 against the backdrop of International Women's Day, being observed today.
“How do you want to be a middle-income country? Tell me…here is my job to tell the government to reach middle-income level not only in economic terms but in all social indicators,” she said.
She lauded the nearly 100 percent enrollment rate achieved for both male and female children and suggested taking advantage of education to achieve other social indicators.
Piccin, who joined the UNFPA Bangladesh office late last year, shared her views as UNFPA takes on a new agenda next year following the 20-year (1994-2014) one on International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).
ICPD is UN's global framework that looks at sexual and reproductive health and rights, population dynamics and gender equality.
UN is set to endorse the new agenda, “ICPD Beyond 2014”, through the general assembly this year and move for action from 2015.
For Bangladesh, Piccin said, the most important upcoming issues would be training skilled midwives, reducing child marriage and gender-based violence and revitalising family planning.
Stating that child marriage is a critical issue for Bangladesh, she said poverty, dowry and sexual harassment of girls were some major reasons behind child marriage.
She suggested strict enforcement of birth registration and making local administrations accountable. Also, there needs to be skilled birth attendants who are critical for safe deliveries, she added.
The Bangladesh prime minister in 2010 promised training 3,000 skilled midwives by 2015. Until now, around 700 nurses have been trained as midwives but posts for midwives have not been created, she said.
There is a process to create the posts in health facilities but it seems too slow, Piccin said, observing that midwives in all health facilities can significantly reduce maternal and child mortality.
The population expert said revival of family planning was a need of the day. “Bangladesh set an example in the world by significantly reducing total fertility rate to 2.3. It has been sort of plateau-ed since 2001,” she said.
People have become more urban, moving from using long-term contraceptive methods to short-term ones. “Using condoms or taking pills every time they have sex has become daily things. So, often you forget and end up with unwanted pregnancy,” she said.
UNFPA, therefore, would focus on permanent contraceptive methods but couples' choices will surely get priority, she said.
“Gender-based violence is pervasive here. It is critically important that boys in the schools are trained to respect girls,” she said, emphasising social condoning of menaces like sexual harassment.