More efforts needed to stop child marriage
The International Day of the Girl Child, observed around the world today, brought with it some sobering statistics: almost 2.5 million child marriages took place across the world during the Covid-19 pandemic, of which at least 11,000 occurred in Bangladesh, according to data gathered by The Daily Star from different districts. In March this year, Unicef warned that school closure, economic stress, service disruptions, and parental deaths were putting the most vulnerable girls at increased risks of child marriage. That this warning was particularly relevant for Bangladesh was confirmed once schools reopened last month, and teachers started to notice how many girls did not return to their classrooms.
Bangladesh already had the fourth highest prevalence of child marriage in the world prior to the pandemic, and research has shown a deep-rooted link between poverty and child marriage. In this context—and given that Covid-19 has, according to various reports, created somewhere between 16 and 24 million new poor in the country—it is surprising that the government was caught unawares by this eventuality of pandemic-induced poverty leading to increased child labour and child marriage in struggling households.
In a report published by this daily, school authorities shared how no guidelines were given from the education authorities regarding the monitoring of students during school closure, and that the long gap in teacher-student communications meant that most were not even aware that their students had been married off. Why did the education authorities fail to give teachers any sort of directives in this regard over the past 1.5 years? Even now, there is no specific data from the authorities on the impact of school closure on the rates of child marriage and school dropouts.
Research suggests that children who are married off with low levels of education are at higher risk of domestic and/or sexual violence, which can have lasting psychological implications. Thus, the government must waste no time in taking aggressive measures that will bring these child brides back to school. At the same time, the authorities must acknowledge its failure in preventing child marriage during the pandemic, and come up with proper monitoring mechanisms to ensure that the Child Marriage Restraint Act is actually enforced. This is currently not happening since, despite it being illegal to solemnise or conduct a child marriage, these events are still occurring at kazi offices, and notary publics are abetting them by providing fake birth certificates.
This situation is only aggravated by the "special provision" in the law that allows for certain child marriages to occur. Given the severe physical and mental health risks that child brides face, and how this scourge has worsened even further during the pandemic, the government must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out child marriage, once and for all, and rid the Child Marriage Restraint Act of this contemptible loophole.