Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday said her government is addressing child marriage problem in a holistic manner though it faces significant opposition from religion-based political parties such as Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami.
Jamaat also opposed Bangladesh's National Women Development Policy 2011 and threatened to scrap it, she told a High-Level Session of the maiden Girl Summit 2014 at Walworth Academy here.
“Child marriage certainly deserves our focused attention, but it can't be treated in isolation. In Bangladesh, we, therefore, are addressing the issue in a holistic manner which helped us achieve a sustained decline in the last two decades,” she added.
“Second is strong legislations. We've had in place a Child Marriage Restraint Act dating back to 1929. We're currently updating the law to provide harsher penalties and prosecution,” mentioned the PM.
Poverty reduction, ensuring education and creating job opportunities can naturally reduce child marriage, she observerd.
“Basically, what I feel that if we can reduce poverty and ensure education and job opportunities, then naturally the child marriage will get reduced. This is our opinion and we've taken all these steps to ensure that our girls should be educated properly and then they should go for jobs so that they can make their own decisions,” mentioned the premier.
Moderated by broadcaster Zeinab Badawi, the session was also addressed by two other panellists -- First Lady of Burkina Faso Chantal Compaore and Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan. British Prime Minister David Cameron also spoke at the session.
Hasina also revealed her government's plans to take free education and stipends for adolescent girls up to the graduation level which she has been currently administering for 1,33,000 girls from the Prime Minister's Special Fund.
“From that fund we have started providing stipends to girls. Of course we'll give to boys also, but gradually we'll increase these up to the master's level so that our girls can get education and parents don't need to give any money,” she said.
The PM mentioned that her government has enacted the country's first Children's Act, 2011 and a National Children Policy 2012, supported by Bangladesh's compulsory Birth Registration Act that provide a comprehensive legal redress against child marriage.
In addition to updating laws, she noted, her government aims to have a National Action Plan on prevention of child marriage with time-bound targets.
“We must also break the patriarchal mindset in our men and boys so that they are convinced to say 'NO' to child marriage as a social pledge. To this effect, we've lunched our National Forum on Social Norm Change involving the civil society, politicians and the media to transform the society's attitude towards child marriage,” the PM added.
She also flagged a practical problem that the reproductive health cycle in adolescent girls in tropical countries such as Bangladesh is triggered much earlier than that in colder countries.
“Hence we need to further expand social and physical protection to our young girls so that poor parents stop considering marriage as the easiest means for ensuring safety-security of the girl child,” said Hasina.
The UK government and Unicef jointly hosted the summit aimed at mobilising domestic and international efforts to end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Child, Early and Forced Marriage (CEFM) within a generation.
Representatives from 52 countries including Bangladesh joined the summit.