Samakal-Manusher Jonno Foundation Dialogue
Thwart child marriage through integrated initiatives: Discussants
In this time of Corona pandemic, the number of child marriages has increased across the country. As a result, unsafe motherhood and health risks to women and children are under great threat. Experts have urged to take coordinated public-private initiatives to handle this situation. They say long-term planning is also needed to come out from the problem. In addition, there is an urgent need to increase social awareness, including financial incentives. It is also necessary to take preparations to face such a crisis in the future.
The opinion came up from a dialogue titled 'Why children are at risk of marriage during Corona pandemic' jointly organized by The Daily Samakal and Manusher Jonno Foundation on Monday. Rina Roy, Director of Manusher Jonno Foundation, Humaira Aziz, CARE Bangladesh’s Director, Women & Girls' Empowerment Program, and Humaira Farhanaz, Program Analyst, Gender, Adolescent and Youth, UNFPA Bangladesh took part in the discussion. The roundtable was broadcast live on Samakal's Facebook Page.
According to a survey conducted by Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF), a total of 462 girls were victims of child marriage last June and some 206 child marriages were thwarted. The incidents of 160 child marriages also took place in May and some 233 child marriages were also stopped.
The discussants believe that due to the implementation of the National Action Plan on the Prevention of Child Marriage between 2018 and 2030 and the Corona, no specific allocation has been made in the current financial year for the social security of girls and adolescents, although the Bangladesh government is committed to ending child marriage and forced marriage by 2030.
Under the circumstances, private and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including the government, have to adopt and implement short and long term plans to stop child marriage. If the educational institutions are closed during the Corona period, the government needs to provide them with mobile and internet if necessary - so that the classes can be held online. Teachers can also make them aware of this. In addition, financial assistance and employment arrangements should be made for the parents of this child so that they do not marry the girl at an early age due to financial crisis. The father of the boy who is giving his child marriage should also be aware about the matter. It is possible to prevent child marriage only by taking various steps.
Regarding the risk of child marriage during the Corona period, Rina Roy said the number of child marriages in June has increased significantly compared to May last due to the ongoing Corona pandemic in the country. This happened due to the inability of the local government authorities to properly monitor child marriage during the pandemic. Apart from this, closure of educational institutions, social insecurity and economic crisis are also the major reasons for the increase in child marriage. She said the NGO workers have to go door to door to work in remote areas. Families are being provided with counseling, follow-up and service providers, communication assistance with local leaders, medical and legal assistance. She called upon the government to stop violence against women and child marriage as a matter of urgency with a special circular at the local government level.
She said the government provides financial incentives to girls in schools. Many parents send teenagers to school for this reason. At present the parents of the girls are not getting any financial incentive. In this situation, they think that marrying the girl is the best solution.
She said counseling and financial services are being provided through technical aspects, especially through mobile phones. She added that she had been able to stop child marriage as much as possible by contacting the local administration over mobile phone. But many parents are taking the girl to a relative's house in another area and arranging for her to get married. It is not possible to stop these marriages. Child marriage can only be stopped if the awareness of the government and the individual and the proper implementation of the law are ensured.
Referring to UNICEF data, Rina Roy said 59 per cent of girls in the country get married before the age of 18 and 22 percent of girls get married before reaching 15. She said the fact is that a girl child is deprived of her human rights due to child marriage and it should be explained to everyone. Civil society needs to be made aware of the various health risks and economic risks by publishing news in the media in this regard.
Regarding the effectiveness of law enforcement or protection measures to prevent child marriage during the Corona period, Humaira Aziz said that the rate of child marriage was already high in Bangladesh. The crisis is exacerbated by any disaster. We weren't ready for Corona prevention and defense, so child marriage has increased at this time. If we want to be free from its negative effects, we have to bring social change. She said the law was not properly enforced during the Corona period as many organisations in the judiciary, including the courts, were closed. Only in the case of rape, the accused was arrested or the role of the administration was seen, but there was no step to prevent child marriage. However, it is not possible to reduce child marriage by enforcing the law. In this case, it is necessary to prevent girls from dropping out of educational activities or institutions.
She said that the health risks of girls during Corona crisis need to be addressed in the field level. Calling for special emphasis on reproductive health care during the Corona period, she said the activities of the Department of Family Planning are now being hampered. The use of birth control methods has decreased and unsafe abortions have increased. Post-natal care of both the mother and the baby and family planning services are also being severely disrupted. In addition, due to the lockdown, women are not able to get the necessary reproductive health care. Due to limited services, it is not possible to provide the materials of various types of contraceptives properly. Apart from these, the girls are facing physical and mental problems due to child marriage and unwanted pregnancies. So in this time of the Corona pandemic, adolescents need to keep health and family planning services running and find a possible solution by identifying the existing risks.
Humaira Farhanaz said Bangladesh ranks fourth in the world in terms of child marriage. This marriage has increased during the Corona period. People in remote areas are not usually connected online, girls are even more backward. So this population needs to be protected. During the Corona time, social distance and other hygiene rules have to be followed while working in the field level. She said many parents in the village think that their important responsibility is to get their daughters married early. The family of the boy who is going to tie the knot is also in financial crisis due to the severe economic crisis during Corona period. So awareness needs to be raised to get them out of this traditional thinking.
Referring to various studies, she said that the risk of child marriage is less in the case of school-going girls as school committee, teachers and students work to prevent child marriage. But no one was able to work in this regard as the school was closed during the bad time. Apart from field level, work against child marriage was not done at union and upazila levels but these 'support systems' need to be activated. Everyone has to go to the fieldwork following the hygiene rules.