BY Afroza Naznin
DHAKA, Dec 4, 2017 (BSS) - "My family members are forcing me to get married. I do not want to get married. I want to continue my study," said 16- year-old Ratna Khatun while talking to Kaliganj Upzila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Sadekur Rahman over phone on April 26 last.
Being informed by the teenager, the UNO rushed to the house of Jakku Mia, father of the girl, at Arpara village under Kaliganj municipality in Jessore and took prompt measures to foil the early marriage.
Ratna appeared in the SSC examination from Salimunesa Pilot Girls' High School under Jessore board this year.
Confirming the matter, UNO Sadekur Rahman said "The girl phoned and requested me to stop her marriage. As soon as I received her phone I went to her house and convinced her family members to stop the marriage."
He added: "If other girls of the upzila stand against child marriage, one day the upzila will be free from the social menace."
The aforesaid story depicts social resistance against child marriage, as people throughout the country are getting more conscious of the adversities of early marriage.
In the last three months, teenage girls thwarted a number of attempts of child marriage. The rate of stopping early marriage has increased to a great extent showing people's resistance against it.
After the enactment of the new law regarding early marriage, many girls have stood against the social menace.
Last year, a total of 177 early marriages took place. But since the beginning of this year and enactment of the new law, people have started raising their voices against it.
According to a study of Washington-based think tank International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), child marriage in Bangladesh has declined to 43 percent from 62.3 percent in last couple of years.
The study showed, during 1996-2005 periods, the percentage of child marriage among 15-year-old girls was 15.9 and 15-18 years girl was 46.5. The total percentage of early marriage was 62.5.
Moreover, during the period of 2006-2015, the child marriage rate among the girls below 15 years was 5.4 while 15-18 years old girls' was 37.8.
The Jatiya Sangsad recently has passed the "Child Marriage Restraint Bill, 2017" adopting the bill by voice votes with Speaker Dr Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury in the chair.
The bill imposed a ban on child marriage and kept provision of punishment for violation of the embargo, completing child marriage or conducting it.
While moving the bill in the House, State Minister for Women and Children Affairs Meher Afroz said, "People of our country aware of the adverse impacts of child marriage, but they do not abide by the law. So we have had a provision of two years imprisonment for child marriage in the proposed bill."
According to the law, the minimum age for the marriage of females is 18 and for males is 21, other than the 'exceptions in special circumstances'.
Reply to a query about allowing marriages of underage girls and boys in 'special cases, Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Anisul Huq said the provision was kept in case of special circumstances and to this end, permission of parents or legitimate guardian, and court will be needed. No one will be able to marry (in 'special circumstance') without taking court's permission.
He also hoped that the law would make the country free from early marriage by 2041.
Women's leader and human rights activist Advocate Elina Khan said the rate of early marriage had declined to a great extent as people became aware of the adverse impact of the social menace.
A madrasa student of Trishal, Sonia, who also foiled her marriage, said, "I want to be self dependent after completing my studies. I came to know about the adverse impact of child marriage from school and scouting programme. We do not want a toddler in another toddler's lap."
In 2016, teenager Sarmin Akter with the help of her grandmother filed a case against her mother and got rid of child marriage. This year, she has been awarded International Women of Courage by the US State Department.
Secretary of Woman and Child Affairs Directorate Nasima Begum said "We have teenager clubs across the country so that adolescent can know about the adversities of early marriage.
She said, "We are involving girls in income-generating activities so that they do not be burden for their parents rather property."
Executive Director of Gono Sakkhorota Programme, Rasheda K Chowdhury said girls started protesting against child marriage because they wanted to continue their studies.