ASIA/BANGLADESH - Girls forced into early marriage: education is the key to the fight against this phenomenon

Wednesday, 24 May 2023 human rights   women   marriage   education   childhood  

[Foto di Adrien Taylor su Unsplash]

Dhaka (Agenzia Fides) - A dramatic figure has been published by UNICEF in recent weeks, indicating that approximately 51% of girls under 18 in Bangladesh are forced into early marriage. Due to a cultural practice, which therefore affects women of different religions, the country has the highest incidence of early marriage in South Asia, with an estimated 34.5 million girls married before the age of 18 and more than 13 million before the age of 15, says the UNICEF report.
"Among the causes of early marriages are: the poverty of girls, the lack of security and the status of women in society, a mentality that makes women a commodity", comments Father Albert Rozario, who is parish priest of St. Mary's Cathedral in Dhaka, and also a lawyer and a lecturer. According to the priest, it is parents, especially the poor and poorly educated people, who hold the strings of the phenomenon: "Education is the main factor in ending early marriages. The whole society, institutions, schools, religious communities must be sensitized against early marriage", he said.
According to Hindu religious and social practices, Hindu women, when married, do not inherit property from their parents; therefore, male siblings often have an interest in arranging early marriages, so as to completely exclude them from the line of inheritance.
“The government is working on this issue. We hope that the number of early marriages will decrease soon,” says Father Rozario, who teaches civil and criminal law to students at the
Holy Spirit National Major Seminary in the capital Dhaka.
It should be noted that in Bangladesh, girls married early suffer lifelong consequences: they are less likely to continue their education; they are more likely to conceive at a young age, which increases the risk of health complications for both mother and child.
The practice of early marriage often isolates girls from family and friends and prevents them from participating in community life, which has a significant negative impact on their mental health and personal well-being. Furthermore, the divorce rate among couples born of early marriages is also alarming.
Some young girls forced into early marriage and now rescued by civil society organizations
spoke to Fides. "At that age, I was playing with my playmates. Then I was told to go and live in my husband's house. I didn't have a childhood," says Shila Roy, a Hindu woman, married at 13 in the Mirpur area of Dhaka. The woman, now 20, shared her sad story: "Every night, my husband abused me. I ran away, but he captured and raped me". She is now working to raise public awareness and prevent early marriages.
Ruby Akter, a Muslim married at the age of 12, told Fides: "Early marriage kills a girl. She has to endure all kinds of physical and mental torture. Body, mind, nothing no longer belongs to him". Akter, now 15, lives in Tejgaon and says, “Child marriage is a curse on society. It is a practice that should not exist in a civilized society and must end.”
Bangladesh has passed laws against child marriage. By law, a woman and a man under the age of 18 cannot marry before the age of 21. However, as Father Rozario confirms, the laws are ignored and the practice continues. In the Christian community in Bangladesh, there is a lot of sensitization work going on to protect girls and early marriages have disappeared. “We are working hard against early marriage. As far as I know, there are no more cases of early marriage in the Christian community in Bangladesh,” the priest says. (PA/FC) (Agenzia Fides, 24/5/2023)