Pandemic reversed work done to counter child marriage
Although the rate of child marriage in Bangladesh has dropped by 40 percent since independence, 13 million girls in the country are still married off before they are 15, mostly at the compulsion of family or society.
The Covid-19 pandemic has put another 10 million girls at risk of child marriage, as society still considers girl children burden, according to various research.
In addition, the continual use of fake age certificates and misuse of "special provision" of the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017 is also contributing to the alarming rate of child marriages in the pandemic.
Afsana Alim, programme officer, Young People, ActionAid Bangladesh, presented the information yesterday at a webinar titled "Celebrating International Day of the Girl Child: Progress and way forward for Bangladesh", jointly organised by The Daily Star and Action Aid Bangladesh.
Due to child marriage, adolescent girls are being subjected to physical and mental health risks, which is aggravated by the fact that they have limited access to healthcare services, said Afsana.
Besides, although almost two-thirds (72.6 percent) of ever-married women experienced one or more forms of violence by their husband at least once in their lifetime, very few report their experience to a formal authority, due to the limited access to legal procedures, she added.
Aziza Parvin, a class ten student from Naogaon, who works with Bardoash Shapla Jubo Foundation, highlighted how their
achievement in creating a child marriage free village has been reversed in the pandemic, as more and more parents were marrying off their underage daughters due to school closure and financial instability.
"Due to Covid-19, we could not work properly as there was restriction of movement, and now, the number of child marriages has increased again in our village, which is very disappointing for us," she said.
Nasima Akter Jolly, secretary, National Girl Child Advocacy Forum Bangladesh, highlighted that during the first eight months of 2021, a total of 813 girl children were subjected to rape, while 193 girl children were killed in this period, due to rape, sexual harassment and family feud, and 157 girl children died by suicide.
"We have to address the mental health issues of the girls, and families should take necessary steps in this regard," she said.
Besides, in order to stop sexual harassment and torture of girl children, a separate and comprehensive law regarding the sexual harassment prevention and remedy should be enacted, she added.
Rawnak Jahan, representative of Girls Not Brides Bangladesh, the Bangladesh alliance to end child marriage, said they were unable to visit the community during the pandemic, and could not continue their social mobilisation activities and advocacy for legal reforms.
However, the Girls Not Brides, a network of 29 organisations, will continue its work on the pressing issue, by sharing learnings and challenges with each other, she assured.
ActionAid Bangladesh country director Farah Kabir; Solika Akter of Activista Dhaka-YFF Network; Syeda Samara Mortada, regional movement, supporter, SheDecides; Priodarshine Auvi, programme analyst, climate change programme, UN Women; Halima Akter, manager, policy and advocacy, Educo Bangladesh, among others, spoke at the event.
It was moderated by Morium Nesa, manager- Women Rights and Gender Equity, ActionAid Bangladesh.