Child Marriage On The Rise In Pandemic
Just when public life is disrupted by the slap in the face of Covid-19, some of the traditional problems of Bangladesh have come to extend sufferings. Child marriage is one of them. Since 1980s, the issue of fixing 21 years for men and 18 years for women has been in force for matrimonial precondition in our country. Even then, Bangladesh ranks fourth in terms of marrying girls off before the prescribed age.
According to UNICEF, more than 51 percent of girls in the country who are now in their mid-20s, were married before the age of 18. Besides, a chapter of higher secondary English textbook marks that 33 percent girls are getting married before the age of 15. Again, 60 percent of them are becoming mothers by the age of 19. A non-government organization estimates that 462 girls were the victims of child marriage in June this year, which was more than in May by 292. While the incidence of child marriage has declined somewhat in the last few years, the increase in child marriage during the current Corona period is certainly disappointing.
The news that a mother of a very poor family in Mujibnagar, Meherpur, has sought permission from the local administration for her daughter's child marriage shows that the parents are knowingly deciding to marry their daughters off at an early age. The pandemic seems to be responsible for the sudden increase in child marriages. There is a growing shortage of jobs in Corona. Unemployment is on the rise as educated youths are sitting at home due to low employment. So parents consider their daughter as a family burden and are thinking of marrying them off at an early age. Many of the poor educated men are secretly marrying their daughters off, avoiding social relations or any kind of interference of administration.
Among the causes of child marriage in Bangladesh are poverty, natural disasters, lack of access to education, social pressure, harassment and dowry. When parents fail to provide their children with food, clothing or education, they become eager to marry their under aged daughters off to self-reliant men regardless of age. Many parents of girls who failed in the results of SSC examination announced during the Corona this year, are dropping out of school and marrying their daughters off.
Even if school-going girls are harassed on the streets, many parents marry their girls off without seeking redress due to social stigma. Some people marry their daughters off at an early age to maintain the family tradition. They want to keep the example of early marriage of the ancestors of the dynasty in case of their sons and daughters as well. Parents are also busy arranging marriages for under aged girls at home at this time with the idea of paying small dowry if they can marry their daughters off at early age.
A quarter of the people in Bangladesh are now living below the national poverty line and the lion's share of this quarter is living in rural areas. The birth of a girl child in these poverty-stricken families is not yet seen as a good sign. Their idea is that when a girl grows up, she will not be able to increase her family income or contribute to agricultural land. Therefore, the parents are trying to establish a relationship with the well-to-do family coming from the city to the village through the marriage of their young daughter during this pandemic. Some parents are collecting the birth certificates of their daughters by showing over age and marrying them off without any hesitation.
Under the pretext of ending the responsibilities, the parents suddenly stop the studies of their daughters without their consent and arrange the marriage, which is having a negative effect on the body and mind of the young girl. Many girls are forced to get married despite their reluctance to accept the decision of their parents or family. We know our girls are deprived and neglected at each and every phase due to gender discrimination. Parents find it safer for their daughters to marry off and keep them at their husbands' homes instead of educating them. Gender inequality not only deprives girls of child marriage, it also deprives them of basic rights such as health, education and medical treatment. Another big phenomenon is noticeable in many poor families which is leading the young girl towards marriage. Men returning from abroad with a lot of money immediately before or at the beginning of the Corona pandemic are busy for marriages taking long vacations at this time. When the family of that migrant returnee finds a girl young and pretty, his family puts a kind of pressure on the poor parents of that girl to marry her off with their son. Thinking that it would cost a lot of money to marry their daughter off somewhere else in the future, parents are now marrying their daughter off to a well-to-do man who has recently been from abroad.
The above causes of child marriage are more or less noticeable in this country throughout the year apart from the Corona stricken times. Many have been unemployed for the past five months, leading to extreme poverty, and many parents are marrying their daughters off in spite of having their reluctance. Moreover, at this time in Covid-19, people have got the opportunity to spend time talking to family and relatives. Although there is no plan to talk about the marriages of their sons and daughters, in the gap of the story, some of the relatives are trying to establish new relationships by making marriages between under aged sons and daughters. They are arranging the wedding in secret in the name of maintaining social distance sitting in the house.
One of the reasons for the decline in child marriage in the last few decades is the provision of stipends for girls at the secondary school level. Girls are disconnected from school-related work as schools are closed for a long time during the Covid-19. As a result, many girls are not getting stipends or any other financial incentives on time. Parents are also marrying their girls off as a solution to this problem.
Girls get married before they are physically and mentally mature and adapt to the in-laws' environment. Many times they become vulnerable to various forms of torture, including dowry-related violence. Because of their young age, they are at great risk of pregnancy or childbirth. Many of them are again ignorant about reproductive health and contraception. Due to this, the infant mortality rate among them is comparatively higher. Maternal deaths during childbirth are also noticed due to malnutrition or anemia.
Just because it is forbidden by law does not mean that parents will move away from child marriage. They also need to take care of their child's well-being and future security so that they do not push their loved child into uncertainty. And at this time of the Corona pandemic, teachers can convince the parents of their students advising them the evil consequences of child marriage.
In our country, weddings are usually arranged after two Eids. The incidence of child marriage is likely to rise at this time after Eid-ul-Azha as well. Though the government and media are playing pivotal roles to control child marriage initiating various steps, we all have to extend our helping hands to make these happen. The non-government organizations working to protect the rights of women and children need to be more active in raising public awareness in this regard. It is desirable that the local administrations including the UP members and chairmen of our villages will always remain proactive.
(Badrul Huda Sohel is Assistant Professor, Department of English, Ishakha International University. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)