Child Marriages and Women’s Education in Bangladesh

Bangladesh, a primarily Islamic country in south Asia, has the fourth highest rate of child marriage in the world. Although laws are in place to prevent it, 52% of women aged 20-24 married before they were 18. The two NGOs “Friendship” and “Plan Bangladesh” work to effectively increase women’s education and rights and decrease the number of child marriages occurring.

Women in Bangladesh are often very societally oppressed. Expected to marry at a very young age to a husband who is usually at least ten years older than they are, they are pressured heavily to drop all educational and personal goals in order to tend to their families and produce children. From the time they are born, they are viewed as burdens and many female babies are aborted. The birth of a female child brings shame upon the mother of the child. According to Fairooz Naziba, a Bangladeshi national, women usually fall into one of four educational groups: highly educated and allowed by their husband to pursue their career after marriage, highly educated housewives, educated until middle school then betrothed and expected to serve their husband, or uneducated and working basically as a slave.

Increasing women’s education has been linked to many benefits in Bangladesh. According to an article written by two highly educated Bangladeshi women, if the number of educated women were to increase, the work force would increase, the population growth would drop, women’s health would increase, domestic violence would decrease, and social mobility and family income would increase. However, spending on women’s education has actually been decreasing. In 2013, foreign aid spending on basic education in Bangladesh was $19 per child and in 2014 it fell to $13 per child. Increased spending on education would also help to significantly decrease child marriages.

The NGO “Friendship” focuses heavily on education and operates exclusively within Bangladesh. It mostly works within Chars, or communities built on river islands. Education within these communities is difficult to obtain as they are extremely poor and migrate frequently because of natural disasters. In order to solve this problem, “Friendship” made schoolhouses that could be disassembled and carried. Because of the lack of adequate teachers, they recorded video lessons and started teacher training programs within these communities. They have secondary education programs for those who wish to keep learning and adult learning programs for those who wish to learn to read and write. These programs are important for ensuring that even the poorest communities are literate and have some upward mobility, which will in turn help decrease the number of child marriages.

Some of the driving factors of child marriages include extreme poverty, lack of education, sexual harassment, societal pressure, natural disasters, and inability to pay a dowry. There is a widespread societal fear in Bangladesh that if you wait to marry past 20, it will be very difficult to find a husband.

There are many tangible benefitsto decreasing child marriages. Women who marry earlier give birth earlier. Women who give birth between the ages of 10-14 are five times more likely to die than those who give birth between the ages of 20-24. A drop in child marriages would also allow women to stay in school for significantly longer. This would lead to a drastic increase in the work force and a boost of the economy. Domestic violence and rape would also decrease because women would be more confident and have more time to find a compatible partner.

Despite the government’s promises to decrease the rate of child marriages, they have proposed a new lawthat would allow some women to be married under 18 years of age “under special circumstances”. This law doesn’t require the child’s consent to be married. Beyond this legislation, local officials can often be bribed to forge birth certificates  to allow child marriages. This corruption leads to child marriages being enabled instead of prevented.

Plan International Bangladesh has many programs dedicated to fighting child marriages. They established programs designed to educate women and the larger community about the laws concerning child marriages and why marriages should be delayed. They have also been working to get legislation passed that would oppose child marriages. They set up co-ed clubs in order to encourage relationships between the genders. They also provide at-risk families with financial support. One studyfound that 15 year old girls who were provided with a financial incentive to stay unmarried were 23% more likely to be unmarried by the time they were 16. These girls were also 25% more likely to stay in school. Plan Bangladesh provides both financial incentives and empowerment to young girls, increasing their chances at a later marriage.

Both NGOs proposed provide important services that support young girl’s educations, empowerment, and their right to remain unmarried until they are ready. By investing in these organizations, we help young women all over Bangladesh to make their own choices concerning their lives and change the expectations set for them by society.

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