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Great strides, but more work needed to stop child marriage

  • Published at 09:50 am December 7th, 2020
child marriage
Representational photo: Reuters

At the webinar, four early married girls from the IMAGE Plus project areas, shared their life experience and problems in presence of the audience with representatives of the government, civil society organizations and partner organizations

On Sunday, September 27, a webinar titled “IMAGE Plus Learning and Sharing Session with Government” on the Initiatives for Married Adolescent Girls’ Empowerment (IMAGE) Plus project, supported by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands was arranged by RedOrange Media and Communications alongside Terre des Hommes Netherlands in Bangladesh the lead organization, and implementing partners Terre des hommes Foundation, SKS Foundation and Pollisree. Dhaka Tribune was the media partner of the event. 

Under the project, a total of 9,000 early-married girls have received project support, including improved access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), nutrition, basic and vocational education and livelihood opportunities as well as reduced gender-based violence in Nilphamari, Gaibandha and Kurigram. IMAGE Plus is now operational in six unions of the three districts. The local and national level SBCC awareness and advocacy campaign has been implemented to positively influence social norms, attitude and practices. Almost all kinds of media and tools defined under social and mass media communication have been utilized in IMAGE Plus for SBCC, awareness and advocacy. 

At the webinar, four early married girls from the IMAGE Plus project areas, shared their life experience and problems in presence of the audience with representatives of the government, civil society organizations and partner organizations. 

Arnob ChakrabartyArnob Chakrabarty, Managing Director of RedOrange Media and Communications 

We can be proud of for the progress of Bangladesh. Bangladesh has been doing tremendously well in the human development index compare to Pakistan even India in some cases especially in the case of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and women empowerment, gender equality and income generation. We have seen the enormous contribution of Bangladesh Government, both the national and district level.

However, child marriage remains a problem in our society which needs to be addressed with high priority. Still every year about half a million of girls are getting off their marriage before the age of 18. Our Honorable Prime Minister pledged to eliminate child marriage from Bangladesh by 2041, but in the meantime, the girls who are already married off before 18 and will be married every year are and to be in sufferings. IMAGE Plus is working for these girls, to protect these girls. We have implemented such a project like IMAGE Plus. We will share our learnings and looking forward to explore the future opportunities of the Government to work on the issue.   

Mahmudul KabirMahmudul Kabir, Country Director of Terre des Hommes Netherlands 

Early married girls are the among the most vulnerable group of women and adolescent population, but most neglected and invisible part of the society. IMAGE Plus was the initiative to promote the rights and potentials towards a life with dignity. Based on the learnings we can say that if we can raise our hands towards the girls, we can take them forward. TdH NL besides Bangladesh, working in India and Africa on the early married groups who are forgotten.

The learnings of the project will be disseminating across the county. The project model, good practices, learnings, documents, communications and training materials developed throughout the project period are ready to hand over to the government so that the organizations working on the related to child marriage, it’s prevention and early married girls; and willing to work in future can make use of it.  We look forward to explore to work further with the government on the issue and how to initiate collaboration between the government and the civil society organizations to the address the cause. Hope these learnings will be replicated countrywide and benefit the early married girls facing difficulties living in different geographical areas and socio-cultural context.   

Farhana Jesmine HasanFarhana Jesmine Hasan, Project Director of IMAGE Plus 

The major changes have been noticed in the lives of the early married girls on the issues of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) including the maternal child health care, nutrition and family planning; education to continue and get back to education, skills development to initiate income generating activities (IGA) and to fight against the Gender Based Violence (GBV). Increasing trend in knowledge and information on the issues have been identified resulted into improved practice of the learnings.  

Some key findings are – Family Planning rate increased noticeably among the couples from 66% to 80% by the end of the project, trend of at least 3 years birth spacing between two children improved among the early married girls.  Under Mother and Child Health Care (MCHC), the rate of antenatal care (ANC) with proper nutritional intake during pregnancy from 66% to 59.8% and institutional delivery have been increased to 59% from 52.8%.  Around 82.2% of EMGs were aware about GBV, but rate of reporting is only 24% some went for legal action as well, still GBV remains underreported as many women think it is a family matter. Involvement in income generation activities through skills development and training support increased to 21.8% from 16% this period. Child marriage reduced in target area among the target population to 65 in 2020 ( June) from 499 in 2017. 

Nakib Rajib AhmedNakib Rajib Ahmed, Head of Programmes at RedOrange Media and Communications

We are not considering the early married girls as adolescents, but rather considering them as married women who have been deprived of their adolescence. IMAGE Plus worked with individual, community and policy level to influence positive change through mass and social media campaigns and events as well as through SBCC materials, tools and Web based knowledge sharing platforms. 

Integrated messaging across a variety of communication channels to reach multiple levels of society has been followed as a key strategy in IMAGE Plus to curve the social norms surrounding child marriage. The 13-episode TV Reality Show ‘Amio Achi’, the celebrity video song “Phuler Naam-e Naam” and celebrity endorsements of the cause of EMGs by Chanchal Chowdhury, Nusrat Imroz Tisha, Sajal and Purnima, and others are among the mass communication initiatives that have helped raise the awareness of early married girls on SRHR, GBV as well as maternal and child health care. 

Aduri Akter, member of IMAGE Plus and an early married girl from Gaibandha IMAGE Plus project 

I have been involved with IMAGE Plus project from the beginning. I had no knowledge about SRHR and hotline services. I have learnt a lot. I am trying to change my life and as well as the others’ lives. I have helped save more than 11 girls from domestic violence. Through the national helpline numbers—109, 999, and 333 I managed to stop 8 child marriages. Also provided these numbers to many adolescents for emergency support. 

I was enduring various problems after my child marriage. I have changed myself after joining IMAGE Plus and trying to change the mindset of others in my village with my learnings and knowledge from the project as a change agent. 

Sharifa, an early married girl from Kurigram IMAGE Plus project

 Everything came to an end after marriage. Though I managed to continue my studies, I could not continue sports while facing objection from different levels and could not proceed with my dream to become volleyball player.

Jannati Khatun, an early married girl from Nilphamari IMAGE Plus project

I received training from the Department of Youth Development on rearing cows in a developed way. Now we rear cows in a scientific manner that way we learnt from the training. Since the training was provides near our home, it was possible for me to attend. I managed to save the transport costs and could concentrate on my household chores during the training, otherwise it was not possible for me to initiate the income generating activity so easily.  

Sumaiya Akter Alvina, victim of child marriage, an early married girl from Nilphamari IMAGE Plus project

I was married off at 16 and I conceived a child in the same month I got married.  I had a stillbirth of my first child. Then, I joined IMAGE Plus. During the training, I learnt about the care needed during pregnancy, reproductive health, also on Gender Based Violence (GBV), and IGAs.  

I tried follow all the things I learnt from the IMAGE Plus training and it helped me improve my life. I decided three years gap after my first pregnancy. During my second pregnancy, I completed all the ANC visits for safe pregnancy, the delivery was in clinic with a healthy baby this time and completed the 4 PNC checkups as well. 

Dr Abul HossainDr Abul Hossain, Project Director, Multi-Sectoral project on Violence Against Women (MASPVAW), Department of Women Affairs 

The key progress milestones on the Honorable Prime Minister’s (PM) pledge on the elimination of child marriages were- new enactment of the Child Marriage Restraint Act (CMRA) 2017 and its Rules. A program could be taken on the mass awareness of the CMRA Act, the committees mentioned under the Rules of the Act involving the government, local government and NGO representatives could be activated. And more men and boys could be engaged besides the women aligning with the UN slogan ‘Engaging men and boys can change the society’. Under the PM’s office, there is a list of around 60,000 marriage registrar and religious leaders involved in marriage conduction, an awareness programme can be taken against child marriage even through virtual meetings. I suggest to share the IMAGE Plus learning to all the other regions of the world like Africa, Caribbean Areas and South Asia where child marriage is highly prevailing. I am requesting Mr Masud Ali Khan, the Chair the National Action Coordination Group (NACG) of the South Asian regional platform SAIVAC (South Asian Initiatives against Violence against Children) to share the IMAGE Plus project learnings to other South Asian countries. 

Dr Md Sarwar BariDr Md Sarwar Bari, Director (Finance) of the Director General of Family Planning (Guest Speaker) 

IMAGE Plus project is impressive as achieved visible results of working on the potentials and rights of early married girls related to the thematic areas of SRHR, education, livelihood and gender-based violence. The project has covered very important part of the population since 59% of the women in Bangladesh are married of before the age of 18, 30% of them become pregnant within one year of which 21% are unplanned pregnancies. We have 12% unmet need of contraceptives whereas the rate is 17% in case of adolescents.  Contraceptive usage among adolescent is only 46% which is 62% of the general population. Though our fertility rate has been reduced from 6.3% in 1975 to 2.05% in 2018 (SBRS), we are still one of the highest in the world in child marriages, as well as high in adolescent pregnancy and unmet needs of this age group, which are the barriers to achieve the SDGs. 

Md AKM Masud AliMd AKM Masud Ali, Chairperson, NACG SAIVAC Bangladesh Chapter and Executive Director INCIDIN Bangladesh (Guest Speaker) 

IMAGE Plus project learnings have been shared at regional event of SAIVAC; it was highly appreciated and acknowledged that the learnings of the project should be replicated. The IMAGE Plus process and materials can be used to reach adolescents at the grass root level. Till date, of 1000 girls aged 15-19 years the birth rate is 113 every year which is hazardous to health, violation of child rights and barriers to reach the related SDGs. The way IMAGE Plus reached the particular age group on family planning, involved the husbands as the most influential decision maker and got a noticeable result, the process can be replicated. 

Mushfiqua Zaman SatiarMushfiqua Zaman Satiar, Senior Policy Advisor SRHR and Gender of The Netherlands Embassy (Guest of Honor) 

The Netherlands embassy worked for adolescent girls since 2014 which was developed based on the learnings of ‘Balika’ Project. The project was designed very carefully so that early marriage would not be encouraged in any manner. The Netherlands government or its partners cannot do everything alone. I would like to request, especially the government authority representatives who are present here to oversee the project, the important part of it could be incorporated in national plan and actions. The Embassy and the partners would like to have a direction from the Government representatives of today on how to work together on this issue in future. 

In this project, a huge number of communications materials are developed. We would like to hand over those to the government so that each & every organization or anybody can access those materials and can use those. I recommend RedOrange to share the materials with the government relevant departments or ministries. We appreciate all the recommendations from today’s participants which are highly valuable. I cannot give assurance to continue the new phase of this project in future but the Embassy will try to cover the issues integrating to other partners’ projects.

Parveen AkhterParveen Akhter, Director General of the Department of Women Affairs, Ministry of Women and Children Affairs (Special Guest)

DWA has a huge initiative on skills development and training for women empowerment countrywide at district and upazilla level; also, awareness programmes on reducing violence against women and children. It has 200 projects including ‘Accelerating Project for Protection of Children’ and ‘Accelerating Action to End Child Marriage. Adolescent Clubs have been established at union level involving adolescent boys and girls with aim to change their mindset towards women with more value aimed with reducing GBV and child marriage. DWA provides allowance to initiate income generating activities and small business as entrepreneurs. Since women empowerment is being hindered due to the lack of access for women to the decision-making process, when it comes to earning, acquiring property, even in family planning, these initiatives are aimed to help to empower women and raise their voices.

Some specific suggestions are – in reference to the DWA project on Sanitary Napkin preparation and distribution as a part of SRHR point of view targeting 200 schools, incorporate the hygiene issues of the married adolescent girls in the next project. The people responsible for child marriages, such as, marriage registrars, religious leaders and teachers, can be provided with counseling against child marriage and rights of early married girls through behavioral change initiatives and counselling. The counselling is recommended for the family members of the early married girls as well to value them with dignity. Also recommend to extend the initiative to more geographical areas. 

I assure that DWA will extend all sorts of relevant support to the early married girls in future with priority wherever possible.  

Md Abdul KarimMd Abdul Karim, ndc, Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Youth and Sports (Special Guest) 

The honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has made a dream to make a middle-income country and digital Bangladesh by 2021, achieving SDGs by 2030 and make Bangladesh as a developed country by 2041. If we do not use this instrument, it would not be possible to take Bangladesh forward and the Prime Minister's dream would not be achieved. The SDG’s philosophy is ‘No one will live behind’. 

The government is focusing a lot on the nutritional needs of married adolescents. It is providing an allowance for breastfeeding mothers to protect children from dwarfism and autism. It is also continuing efforts to lower the maternal mortality rate. The activities are all about life oriented and appreciative. The GBV issues towards the EMGs are addressed through this initiative.

I think the initiatives should be extended in whole areas of Bangladesh so that each & every early married girl can receive the same services. They are also victims of Gender Based Violence. The project is supplemented by CEDAW and Beijing Plus Plan of Actions.

To me the IMAGE Plus project seems like one of the best projects in Bangladesh.

Finally, I recommend;

•    To expand the areas of project areas as earliest possible;

•    Strengthen & enhance GO-NGO collaboration;

•    Sensitize Government Administration and local authorities;

•    Involve local government in every action and create awareness on the different components/issues of the project.

Recommendations by the discussants:

-- Making adolescent girls aware of their rights and bringing them to study, manage earnings.

-- Widening IMAGE Plus activities to eight divisions of the country, share good practices with other countries.

-- More discussion on reproductive health and rights for unmarried adolescents

-- Coordinate and integrate with Government existing services

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