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Child marriage on rise in Bangladesh: UNICEF

WT24 Desk

While the incidence of child marriage has decreased worldwide, it has increased in Bangladesh. Bangladesh stands fourth in child marriage prevalence, second only to India in numbers. The three other countries where the child marriage rate is higher than Bangladesh are backward African countries. This report was launched globally on 6 March by UNICEF, according to reports.

In a statement issued on the day, UNICEF stated that over the past one decade it had been possible to prevent 25 million child marriages. Presently, one out of every five girls is married before 18 years of age. A decade ago this was one in every four. The most progress has been made in South Asian countries where the percentage of a girl’s marriage before 18 has fallen from 50 per cent to 30 per cent. In all, the prevalence of girl’s marriage before 18 has fallen by 15 per cent. However, the picture in Bangladesh is different.

Commenting on the UNICEF report, secretary of the women and children affairs ministry Nasima Begum told Prothom Alo, “If UNICEF has given such information, that is wrong. Child marriage has fallen significantly in the country and is continuing to fall. This is evident in studies by BIDS and other reliable research institutions. We do not agree with UNICEF’s global database.”

Fall in numbers globally

According to government data, the 2011 survey indicates that 52 per cent of girls in Bangladesh are victims of child marriage. But UNICEF now puts this at 59 per cent. The highest prevalence of child marriage globally is in Niger at 76 per cent. Next is Central African Republic (68 per cent), and then Chad (67 per cent). In numbers, the highest number of child marriages takes place in India, at 26.6 million a year. In Bangladesh, this is 3.93 million.

According to UNICEF, India has managed to reduce child marriages through women’s education. They have raised awareness about the harms of child marriage. Though the prevalence of child marriage is highest in Africa, Ethiopia has managed to bring this down by one-third.

The UN sustainable development goals commit to end child marriage by 2030. At the 2014 World Girls Summit in England, Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina pledged to end child marriage below 15 years of age by 2021, and bring marriage between 15 to 18 years down by one third within 2021 and and to end child marriage completely by 2041. The government has come up with a new law regarding child marriage and has several relevant campaigns.

UNICEF says the opposite

According to the survey conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) in 2015 with financial and technical assistance of UNICEF, 52 per cent of 20 to 24 year-old women in Bangladesh married before they were 18. And 18 per cent married before they were 15. The official percentage for child marriage 52 per cent, but state minister for women and children affairs Meher Afroz at a programme last year said child marriage had fallen by 13 per cent.

The UNICEF-funded Assessment on Coverage of Basic Social Services in Bangladesh last year also indicated a fall in child marriage. National Human Rights Commission chairman Kazi Reazul Huq told this correspondent, “So long I had known that the child marriage prevalence in Bangladesh was 52 per cent. The manner in which National Human Rights Commission, various NGOs, the alliance against child marriage, and other organisations set up by girls and boys across the country, have been building up resistance against child marriage, I feel child marriage must have fallen. It cannot have increased.”

UNICEF’s deputy representative in Bangladesh Seema Sengupta in an email message of Prothom Alo recently, said, there were to separate surveys, the demographic health survey and MICS. The samplings of the surveys were different too. So there was a +- 5 difference between the surveys which is acceptable. Child marriage prevalence presently in the country is between 52 to 59 per cent.

A researcher, on condition of anonymity, said, differences between surveys can be up to 3 per cent. It can be between 52 and 54 per cent, not 59 per cent.

“Due to differences in the surveys, child marriage can be between 52 to 59 per cent. Say it is 52 per cent. Even that is alarming. The prevalence is too high. Child marriage is not decreasing in proportion to the other advancements. Child marriage is still in a bad state. Attention must be paid to this issue.”  Human rights activist Sultana Kamal said.

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