Child marriages increased drastically during lockdown
We are alarmed at the findings of a study conducted by the Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) on the situation of child marriages across the country. It has found that at least 13,886 child marriages took place in 21 districts of the country during the lockdown last year. We fear that the actual situation must be far worse since the study could not cover the entire country and was conducted only in 84 upazilas of the 21 districts. Also, not all the unions of the 84 upazilas were covered in the study. What is even more alarming is that in around 78 percent of the cases of child marriages, the people involved said they were aware of the legal age of marriage and that child marriage was illegal.
It is really frustrating that parents are marrying off their daughters despite knowing these facts. However, we must also understand the reasons why parents in general marry off their daughters at an early age and also why the child marriage rate increased during the lockdown. The MJF study looked into the reasons behind such a high number of child marriages and found that poverty, loss of earning opportunities and uncertainty over the future mostly led to the families marrying off their daughters during the lockdown. Thirty percent of the respondents of the study cited poverty as the reason that led to early marriage of their daughters. The closure of educational institutions was another major reason of child marriage as girls got stuck at home during the lockdown, as educationists believe.
While child marriage has increased around the world during the pandemic, the situation is particularly worrying for a country like ours where the prevalence of child marriage is usually quite high and the pandemic has just made the situation worse. The question is, will the child marriage rate drop now that there is no more lockdown? Could the government ensure employment opportunities for the families that were left with no work in remote rural areas during the lockdown? Did the government's cash incentives reach these vulnerable families?
Needless to say, without ensuring that the basic necessities of a family are met, reducing child marriage will be very difficult. No matter how many laws and regulations there are, they will not be able to stop this social curse—which is destroying our girls' lives and obstructing the development of the society as a whole—if we cannot reduce poverty from the country. The other underlying factors of child marriage must also be addressed by the government to stop this practice once and for all. The MJF study has given a glimpse of what the situation is in a number of districts. We think the government should conduct a national-level survey to get the whole picture regarding child marriage across all districts.