Child marriage increases during COVID-19 pandemic

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DHAKA, March 28, 2021 (BSS) – Bangladesh witnessed 13 percent rise in child
marriage during COVID-19 pandemic last year as the deadly virus massively
affected societies and economies pushing many of them into extreme poverty.

Child marriage has always been a huge obstacle to development for countries
like Bangladesh while the virus appeared to have negative effect by spreading
its clutches with extra wraths on the social menace.

Gender Justice and diversity department of BRAC, the world’s largest NGO,
found that child marriage increased by 13 percent in 11 districts when it
conducted a survey to access the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on women and
adolescence in 11 districts across the country last year.

This is the highest rate of child marriage in Bangladesh in the last 25
years when the country is approaching to become a role model in various
social advancement indexes including reducing child marriage to a great
extent.

The survey found that loss of income of parents and school closures amid
pandemic are the main reasons behind the rate of increase of child marriages.

According to different non-governmental organizations, child marriage has
increased at an alarming rate in the months May, June, July, August and
September. However, the government through its local administration bodies,
law enforcing agencies and with help of NGOs has been working hard to prevent
child marriages across the country.

Sujanagar Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) of Pabna Raushan Ali saved Suma
Khatun, a 15-year-old eighth-grade student under the same upazila when her
family forcibly wanted to marry her off with a man from neighboring upazila.

Ali arrived at the Khatun’s house with police force and was able to arrest
the would-be groom while the mobile court later sentenced him to seven-day in
jail.

In a similar incident in Dharmapur area of Gaibandha district, a 14-year-
old schoolgirl was saved from early marriage by local administration as they
took immediate action to stop the marriage after receiving a call from the
neighbors on the Child Helpline 1096.

Although the government has been able to stop one or two such incidents of
child marriage in distraught families amid the pandemic, many child marriages
occurred evading the eyes of local administration and law enforcing agencies.

The issues of child marriage and violence against women and children amid
pandemic got highest importance at a discussion meeting of Parliamentary
Standing Committee on the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs in last
October.

According to Women and Children Affairs ministry’s data, child marriage has
increased in Kurigram, Natore, Jessore, Kushtia, Narsingdi and Jhalokati
districts.

As per the official data, 231 child marriages occurred across the country
in the first three months (March to June) of the lockdown last year, while
the highest number of 61 child marriages took place in the northern district
of Kurigram.

The second highest child marriage 23 took place in Natore district
followed by 15 each such incident in Jessore and Kushtia.

Besides, 10 child marriages have taken place in Jhalokati, eight each in
Naogaon, Chapainawabganj and Narsingdi, seven in Gaibandha and Cox’s Bazar,
six each in Nilphamari and Ladhipur and five each in Chittagong and Rajshahi.

Shaheen Anam, executive director of the Foundation for the People (MJF),
said, 59 per cent of girls in the country get married before the age of 18
while 22 percent of girls get married before their 15th birthday.

Explaining why child marriage has increased during the pandemic Anam said,
all educational institutions in the country remained closed to prevent the
spread of the virus while many people also lost their jobs.

Against this backdrop many parents got worried about keeping their
children with them because of social security concerns. As a result, the
situation prompted the parents in taking decision to arrange marriages for
their teenage daughters.

Chowdhury Mohiman, manager of the Child Helpline 1098, run in
collaboration with UNICEF, said the reported cases of child marriages
received by the child helpline have gone up alarmingly during the pandemic
period.

In April last year, he said, the Child Helpline received 450 phone calls
related to child marriage. “Going by the number of pleas received from
adolescent girls to stop child marriages, we see an increasing trend in
attempted child marriages in recent times as opposed to pre-pandemic days.
Now we get such calls more than 150 in a month,” he added.

According to Save the Children’s Global Report, in 2020 about 2 lakh
girls in South Asia were at risk of new child marriages while an additional
2.5 million girls may be victims of child marriage by 2025.