The untold story of child marriages in Bangladesh

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DHAHA, Oct 19, 2018 (BSS/UNICEF FEATURE) – Just before reaching his 18
years, Jahirul first got married with an underage girl in 2001 showing thumb
to the existing laws and rules of the country. Even he did not register his
marriage for lack of valid documents, paving the way to cut his tie with his
newly married spouse.

One year after his marriage, Jahirul who lived in Gobaria village under
Kuliarchar in Kishoreganj got divorced with his wife easily and he did not
face any trouble to do so as their marriage wasn’t registered.

Later, he got married two more times with underage girls without
registration of marriages. Every time Johirul did this cleverly to avoid law
suits.

It is common phenomena in rural and marginalised communities in the
country that many marriages held with underage brides and grooms remain
unregistered. The poor families force their girls to get married so that they
can cut their family burden.

A new study reveals the worst scenario of child marriage, saying about 44
percent of the marriages held with underage girls were not registered in the
country in 2016 and 2017. Even in those marriages, which had been registered,
none used any proof of age or birth certificate.

The study analyzed of 85 cases of child marriages that took place in 19
districts. The findings of the study titled ‘Children in Bangladesh: Progress
towards Commitments in 2017’ was revealed at a discussion at Jatiya Press
Club in the capital on Thursday.

Out of the 85 child brides, the study shows, about 80 percent were 14-16
years old while about 13 percent were 10-13 years and only seven percent were
17-18. In 56 percent of cases, the marriages were registered while the rest
were not recorded.

A 10-member network of development and rights organisations conducted the
study using both primary and secondary data.

The study identifies that superstition about marital status of girls,
dowry, insecurity, social pressure, poverty, death of parents, love affairs,
sexual harassment, and seeing girls as a family burden are the major reasons
behind early marriage.

Of the child brides, 15 percent were students of grades III and V, about
50 percent of grade-VIII, and the remaining 35 percent of grades IX and X,
the study says, revealing that 35 percent of grooms out of the 85 cases were
also underage.

It recommended establishing a monitoring cell to check underage marriages
and finalise the Draft National Action Plan to Eliminate Child Marriage
(2015-2021).

Speaking at the discussion, Ain o Salish Kendra executive director Sheepa
Hafiza said a fact-finding mission should be formed to better understand the
situation of child marriage at field levels.

Apart from enacting the Child Marriage Restraint Act-2017, the government
has recently formulated the Child Marriage Restraint Rules-2018, said Laila
Jesmin, additional secretary of the Women and Children Affairs Ministry.

As per the rules, she said, a verification committee headed by upazila
nirbahi officer (UNO) will be formed in each upazila to evaluate the ‘best
interest’ of underage children if they have to be married under the special
circumstances provision of the law.

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