Combatting Early Marriage in Bangladesh
Located in the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh is a small, lush country with a tropical climate.
IT’S ALSO ONE OF THE MOST VULNERABLE COUNTRIES to climate change and natural disasters that threaten livelihoods and lead to poverty, food insecurity and child marriage. Due to COVID-19, more girls and young women are being forced to marry because having one less mouth to feed and one less child to send to school is a matter of survival for families.
Today, Bangladesh has the third-highest prevalence of child marriage in the world. At least 13,886 girls in 21 districts were forced into child marriages between April and October of 2020. Of the total, 48% were between 13 and 15 years old.
COVID-19 set back efforts to end child marriage, potentially resulting in an additional 13 million child marriages between 2020-2030 globally.
Here’s what we accomplished over the past year:
learned about gender equality, girls’ rights, sexual and reproductive health rights, child protection and advocacy.
engaged by Champion Fathers and Mothers in group sessions, during which they learned about girls’ rights and how to stand up against child marriage.
in Champion Fathers and Mothers groups received training on how to support girls’ economic empowerment and delay early marriage.
1000+ kazis, religious leaders, matchmakers and marriage solemnizers
received training on how to prevent child marriage and support adolescents to delay early marriages.
1000 education workers
received training on how to report and respond to situations in which children are at risk of being forced into early marriage.
were held with government officials to help them improve their responsiveness to children’s rights violations, particularly child marriage.
Stories of change
After being involved with this project, I know what child marriage is and its harmful consequences. I also learned how to protect myself and my peers from it. I stopped my own early marriage and another girl’s in my group.”– MUNNY, 16, A PEER LEADER IN THE BHOLA DISTRICT
EVER SINCE SHE WAS A YOUNG GIRL, Munny dreamed of becoming a scientist. When COVID-19 struck, her father lost his job and could no longer afford to send the 16-year-old to school. At one point, her family considered marrying her off to help alleviate the financial strain they were facing.
But Munny had other plans! For two years, she was the leader of a peer group associated with the Combatting Child Marriage project. In this group, she learned about safe spaces, gender equality and education rights as well as sexual and reproductive health rights and the importance of preventing child marriage. This knowledge gave her the confidence to speak up and to seek support from government services to change her family’s mind. She later helped another girl who was facing the same situation.
Munny says that in addition to putting a halt to an early marriage, her participation in the group emboldened her to access sexual and reproductive health services from a local clinic where she learned about proper menstrual hygiene. “If we had not been involved in this project, we would not know about these things,” she says.
Now that Munny is free to focus on her future again, she’s back in school after a two-year break. She’s also using her new skills and knowledge to help others. “Being involved in this project didn’t just help me; now I can raise awareness and encourage others to overcome obstacles like I have,” she says.
A TRUE CHAMPION
“CHILD MARRIAGE VIOLATES A GIRL’S RIGHTS,” says Ms. Kamrunnahar, a Champion Mother from Bhola. “It breaks a girl’s dreams and ultimately ruins her life.”
After receiving training through the Combatting Early Marriage project, Ms. Kamrunnahar felt a new sense of responsibility and she gained the confidence to become an advocate for the prevention of child marriage. When she learned that her neighbour, Mr. Minetu, had stopped paying for his 12-year-old daughter, Piya, to attend school and was arranging her marriage, Ms. Kamrunnahar reached out to the father.
She shared with him information on child marriage laws and the health and social implications associated with a child marriage. She also talked about the benefits of staying in school. In the end, he changed his mind and Piya remained in school.
“I didn’t understand girls’ rights, and that’s why I did not support my elder daughter continuing her education,” Piya’s father shares. “But now I realize the importance of girls' education. That's why I have decided to support my other daughters to get an education, just as I would my son.”
“If I hadn’t gotten support [from Ms. Kamrunnahar], I wouldn’t have been able to continue my education,” says Piya. “Now my family has changed its mindset and acknowledged my value.”
A KAZI CAN CHANGE
SALAMAT LIVES BY A NEW MOTTO: “No more child marriage. Go ahead with a dream in mind.”
He credits his shift in attitude to the training he received from Plan International and local partners on child marriage prevention laws, gender equality and child rights and protection." He recounts one story where he refused to marry an adolescent couple after he discovered they were underage. He later told them about the legal age of marriage in Bangladesh.
Today, Salamat advocates for ending child marriage in his community. “I do not register any child marriage,” he says.
“This has decreased my income, but I am doing something good for the people and society. In my area, child marriage is now 90% lower than before.”
No more child marriage.
– SALAMAT, A KAZI IN BHOLA
Go ahead with a dream in mind.
I have done a lot of wrongs by arranging early marriages, but now I promise I will stand against it at any cost.”– Md Jahir Ali, a public servant (kazi) who is authorized to register marriages in Bangladesh.
Your incredible support for the She Decides project is ensuring that girls and women can make their own choices about their bodies and lives and can do so in a safe and supportive environment. Thank you for helping prevent early pregnancy and gender-based violence in rural Peru.
The She Decides project is funded in part by the Government of Canada.
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