A snapshot of child marriage in Bangladesh

Child & early forced marriage (CEFM) is currently one of the most dominant social problems in Bangladesh. Shawon, a member of Youth For Change Bangladesh, gives a snapshot of some of the factors which are keeping the prevalence of CEFM at unacceptable levels.

Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of child marriage worldwide and the highest rate of marriage involving girls under 15. According to the current law, the minimum age of marriage for girls is 18, but in reality the current rate of child marriage is estimated by UNICEF to be 65% for girls married under 18, and 29% married by 15. 

This is in decline, and the rate of girls being married before 18 is coming down day by day. According to recent data, in 1991 the rate was 73% which came down to 65% in 2011. But even though the total rate is decreasing, the same study found that among firls marrying between 16-17, the rate actually increased by 35%. Such high rate of child marriage is utterly disheartening.

Bangladeshi child bride Sharina (Credit: Plan International)

Bangladeshi child bride Sharina (Credit: Plan International)

Case Study 1: Lisa, Mymensingh

I always dreamt of getting married to an educated family. But due to economic insolvency, my father married me off at the age of 16. I tried to convince them to turn their decision but they pressurized me get married. At some point, I acquiesced.

My husband’s family was not to solvent either, but I still I gave birth to two children in 2 years, which increased our family’s poverty. I’m trying hard to make sure end meets, but often it’s not enough. I along with my children am suffering from malnutrition; I am not being able to do anything for my children. I realize now that I have lost the game of life.    

In our country, almost 95% of the child marriages take place in the rural areas, where education is limited. In these areas, there are some definite reasons for such high rates of child marriage. Poverty, illiteracy, superstitions, economical dependence are some of the prime factors. A number of people are conscious about these problems, but the mass hardly seems to have recognized the problem.

The prevalence of the dowry system are also responsible for this kind of marriage. In many cases, it is seen that an aged man proposes to marry a girl below 18 without dowry, which entices the parents living under the poverty line as they do not want to miss this sort of “golden opportunities”. In some cases, the parents are shown the opportunity to get their child overseas for a better future, which actually leads to child trafficking.

Bangladesh's 'wedding busters' activist group raising awareness around child marriage (Credit: Bas Bogaerts / Plan International)

Bangladesh's 'wedding busters' activist group raising awareness around child marriage (Credit: Bas Bogaerts / Plan International)

Case study: Nishad, Barisal

I was married at the age of 14, by force, to a man who was double my age. My father had to give 50,000 taka as dowry, which he promised to give on installments. After 6 months, my father failed to give the money he promised. After enduring inhumane tortures, I decided to leave my husband. I came back to my father’s residence, but after a month, we lost all our assets in river erosion. We were at a loss and we didn’t know what to do. At that time the son of our Town Union member helped us. He made arrangements so that I can receive vocational training.

Now, after years of patience and sufferings, I am a happy independent woman. I have my own family now and I earn my own bread. But still, when I remember those days of continuous torture, I tremble with fear.

It’s obvious that family plays an important role in the case of early and forced marriage; but often even the families have little choices due to poverty and such reasons.

Such problems must be eradicated or else the potential development of our nation will not take place. Our country is progression through a definite process of the diffusion of technology and educations. The scope for girls to educate themselves and become independent is growing. Conscious families are beginning to recognize the incentives to not marry of their children early.

Different NGO’s are working along with the government to eradicate this problem – let’s hope that their efforts will result in the positive outcome that we all cherish to see.

To find out more about Youth for Change's work in Bangladesh, click here.

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