In today’s world, over 700 million women who are still alive were married as children. Child marriage is something that is deeply embedded in cultural and religious beliefs. In the developing world, some of the factors driving child marriage forward are the beliefs that there’s no value in sending women to school, keeping women healthy, and relieving their poverty.
South Asia accounts for almost half of the global child marriages. Bangladesh is the fifth highest country plagued by this growing issue, with 52% of children married under the age of 18. The country is also the second highest absolute numbers of child marriage with a number of 3,931,000. These numbers vary on settlement areas because of the separation in wealth. In rural areas, child marriage is more prevalent, 71% of the children being married before the age of 18. In urban areas it’s at 54%, due to the wealthier classes and job opportunities.
Life in Bangladesh is hard with frequent flooding and river erosion, causing families to live under a constant threat of insecurity and poverty which affects the decision of parents on the subject of schooling and marriage for their young daughters. The parents also desire to secure stable economic and social security for their daughters and protect their daughters from harm, including sexual harassment. Many families rely on the financial pressure of a dowry to survive, making it more likely for girls from poorer families to be child brides.
Over the years, the government of Bangladesh has worked with The United Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to decrease child marriage rates in the country. Before this collaboration, Bangladesh was moving backwards, expanding child marriage, when in September 2014 the government approved a law that would allow young girls to marry at the minimum age of 16 instead of 18, causing an international outcry. Though in July of that year Bangladesh, at a Girl Summit promised to work towards ending child marriage. Their course of action was to create a National Plan of Action by the end of 2014, ending the marriages of girls and boys under the age of 15, and reduce the namer of girls marrying between the ages of 15 to 18 one third by 2021. The law that was passed by the government works against these commitments and angered those who knew about the promises the country had made to stop child marriage.
The most recent move made by the government to end child marriage was in February of this year. Parliament adopted the Child Marriage Restraint Act which caused widespread concern over the special provision that would allow child marriage in “special cases.” However, the act doesn’t define what those “special cases” are, and many believe this provision will legitimize statutory rape and encourage child marriage. The bill was signed into law March 11, 2017.
Due to the conflict in 2014 between commitment to reducing child marriage and the law Bangladesh had passed encouraging it, the government is currently working towards a goal of ridding the country of child marriage. The Ministry of Women and Child Affairs are currently working with the government of Bangladesh to eliminate child marriage from 2015-2021, despite facing backlash from regressive legal proposals. The country is also a member of the South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC) that adopted a regional plan to end child marriage and is supposed to be enacted between 2015-2018.
Though Bangladesh is one of the countries with the greatest number of child marriages, the movement towards ending child marriage doesn’t come from one country alone. Every little move towards a positive future helps, but it’ll take time, money, commitment, and the participation of countries to make the end of child marriage a reality.