Letting girls grow up to be who they want to be

October 26, 2014

Reading Time: 2 minutes

According to UNICEF, Bangladesh ranks second in terms of under 18 marriages in the world. Child marriage has become a crisis due to its pervasiveness. The problem seems to be more acute in rural areas (71 per cent) compared to urban areas (51 per cent). Illiterate women are more vulnerable than those who completed a secondary or higher secondary education. Those employed are also less likely to fall victim than woman without a job. Thus child marriage can impact the achievement of almost every single millennium development goal. It even has a direct impact on GDP, as child marriage forces girls to drop out of school and lose any opportunity to contribute to the national economy.

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According to UNICEF, Bangladesh ranks second in terms of under 18 marriages in the world. Child marriage has become a crisis due to its pervasiveness. The problem seems to be more acute in rural areas (71 per cent) compared to urban areas (51 per cent). Illiterate women are more vulnerable than those who completed a secondary or higher secondary education. Those employed are also less likely to fall victim than woman without a job. Thus child marriage can impact the achievement of almost every single millennium development goal. It even has a direct impact on GDP, as child marriage forces girls to drop out of school and lose any opportunity to contribute to the national economy.

Typically in rural areas, a girl’s family believes that they are ensuring her social status, security, shelter, stability and sustenance by marrying her off. Mind you, that these are usually provisions the state is expected to provide for its citizens. However, it is not just the failure of the government that is solely responsible for this problem. Our view towards women has a significant role to play as well, because women are seen as caregivers, and not providers. So naturally they are not considered worthy of making extra contribution financially. Thus social pressure works as an agent of early marriage. Acceptance in the community is vital for survival, especially in rural Bangladesh. So even if a parent holds a different view or has dreams for his or her daughter’s future, they are still forced to give into the collective pressure.

Over the years, several initiatives have been taken at the community and policy level to stop child marriage. The government has begun providing free education for girls up to the higher secondary level. NGO’s and INGO’s are advocating for stronger laws against child marriage. Development partner are showing their support through campaigns and mass awareness events such as the UK’s Girls Summit. Similarly, the upcoming Bangladesh Girls Summit will help bring this issue to the forefront. It is expected to create a common platform where young girls will voice their dreams and aspiration, where pledges will be made to end child marriage.

We cannot eradicate poverty overnight; neither can we fix the issue of child marriage by simply strengthening laws. Any strategy, plan or programme that aims to make a significant impact needs to have a strong social mobilisation component to change the attitudes of parents and other community members. The government should adopt a bottom-up approach with extensive community involvement along with effective implementation of the anti-child marriage law and a zero tolerance policy for violators.

But let’s not make it just about achieving development targets, or about becoming a model for the rest of the world. Let’s work together for the sake of doing something right for all the girls out there. Let them have what they deserve, let them be who they are suppose to be – not just a mother, wife, or caregiver – but a child, just a child who is free to become whomever she wants to be.

Nadia Afrin Shams is a senior policy specialist for BRAC Advocacy for Social Change

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