When girls marry as children, the impact on their health is severe. Complications in pregnancy and childbirth are among the leading causes of death in young girls and if they survive, they are at increased risk of injury and other complications.
Child marriage steals childhood from girls and launches them into a cycle of poverty by taking away their chance of an education, which in turn means the parenting of their own daughters can often result in the same choices regarding early marriage.
Despite a minimum legal marriage age for women of 18, according to UNICEF, Bangladesh has the second-highest rate of child marriage in the world. The custom is so strongly ingrained that the legislation is widely ignored. Poverty and the perception of girls as a financial burden results in many parents giving away their daughters as young as possible. It is often considered that a bride as young as 12 or 13 will give more years of servitude, be more obedient to their husbands and will not incur a dowry price. For each year they grow older, the dowry price goes up.
The current rate of child marriage in Cox’s Bazar where we work is 67% and in a recent series of interviews we conducted with parents here, it emerged that there is a significant problem with ‘Eve teasing’ and the affordability of mainstream primary school once girls have graduated from our Community schools.
‘Eve teasing’ is a term that describes the treatment of young girls who are unmarried, including sexual advances, harassment, rape and kidnap. One of the mothers described how ‘They are only safe from this if they are married. In our country girls cannot earn, only boys can earn so girls have to marry. Girls just have to produce children”.
This is not a situation these parents would choose. Another mother said “We know that girls are too young for pregnancy and childbirth and it hurts them, we would want a different life for them, but we have no choice. We do not want this for our daughters”.
Working with local partners MUKTI, Children on the Edge provides Community Schools for 900 working children in Cox’s Bazar. With regard to combatting child marriage in a general sense, the schools are giving girls the chance of an education they would otherwise be unable to access. The team are actively increasing the percentage of girls registered for school, which provides a safe environment and prepares children for transition to primary school. Staff encourage parents on the importance of education for their daughters and give training and support.
With regard to specifically addressing the problem of child marriage, the project is doing the following:
Find out more about the Community Schools in Cox’s Bazar
Donate to the work in Bangladesh
Read the recent report by Human Rights Watch on Child Marriage in Bangladesh
Ask your MP to sign the Global Parliamentary Declaration to End Child, Early and Forced Marriage
The Voice of the Child - Meaningful Participation in Bangladesh
Girls Summit 2014 - Preventing backward steps in Bangladesh
Preventing Child Marriage - A Mother's Perspective