A UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) study has given us the shocking news that 59 percent of all marriages that took place in Bangladesh between 2006 and 2017 were in fact child marriage—the brides were all under 18. In fact, we have surpassed other countries in the region by quite a margin; the percentage of child marriage in India was found to be 27 percent, 40 percent in Nepal, 21 percent in Pakistan, and 26 percent in Bhutan. Needless to say, this makes the attainment of our Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 next to impossible. The ill effects of child marriage are widely known and acknowledged, which is why we have a law that prohibits it. So where are we going wrong?
One of the biggest factors that encourage child marriage is the lack of security of young girls and a high incidence of violence against women. According to our police, last year there were 16,253 incidents of violence against women and children. Every day, we read reports of girls becoming victims of rape and other forms of violence with many of the perpetrators going scot-free. Stalking is a major problem in both rural and urban areas. The threat to a girl's physical security and the social stigma associated with rape or other forms of sexual violence prompt many parents to marry their daughters off as early as possible. Add to that the special provision in the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017 which allows parents to marry their daughters off before age 18 by a court order. Thus we have all the conditions necessary to promote child marriage rather than deter it.
We know how child marriage holds us back as a nation. Early marriage means girls dropping out of secondary school, being forced into sexual relations that they may not be ready for, having babies when they themselves are children, being malnourished, and giving birth to premature babies and even dying because of birth-related complications. The government must work extra hard to rid the country of this curse by creating a safe environment for girls to grow up in and reach their full potential. They must also scrap the special provision that contradicts the premise that child marriage is an age-old malaise that we must permanently get rid of.