At least 626 children were raped last year
Bangladesh has witnessed a rise in child marriages in 2020, with experts blaming the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, closure of educational institutions, social insecurity, financial crisis and lack of monitoring by both government and non-government organizations for the increase.
Incidents of child marriage increased by 44% last year, with 101 girls falling victim, Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) said in an annual report on the "Situation of Children."
The report, unveiled at a virtual seminar on Saturday, was prepared based on news published in eight leading newspapers of the country. However, it still does not portray the complete picture of violence against children as many incidents are unreported, especially during the pandemic, MJF said.
According to the organization, 70 girls fell victim to child marriage in 2019.
Data for 2020 in the report said 1,521 children -- 1,088 girls and 433 boys -- suffered abuses and incidents split into 13 categories, including sexual abuse, rape, child marriage, road accidents, murder and attempted murder.
A total of 641 children died from the various forms of abuse and incidents.
At least 626 children aged 6-18 were raped last year. There were even incidents of rape while collecting relief materials during the pandemic-induced general holidays.
Among the deceased, 158 children were killed in various incidents and 127 were killed in road accidents. At least 165 children drowned in the last year.
In addition, 136 children were murdered. Eight girls were subjected to torture while working as housemaids and three of them died. Besides, 32 children committed suicide.
The reasons behind the suicides included failing examinations, family feuds, love, harassment, rape or attempted rape, and cybercrimes or blackmail.
Rafeza Shaheen, MJF program coordinator, said there is a big difference between the actual picture and reported incidents of child marriage and violence.
"When our partner organizations worked at the slums, villages and union or ward level areas, they found many incidents that were mutually settled in the localities and some incidents where families were barred from coming forward and speaking up.
"We could not include such incidents in our evidence-based annual report, but they were numerous," she added.
Speakers put emphasis on child protection activities
Bangladesh ranks fourth in the world in number of incidents of child marriage.
About 59% of girls are married before the age of 18 in the country and 22% are married off before 15, MJF said.
At the online conference, speakers said child marriages have increased alarmingly during the coronavirus pandemic, as families married off the girls thinking it would ease their financial burden.
The speakers put emphasis on child protection activities and said such activities depend on policy, monitoring and action.
MJF Executive Director Shaheen Anam said their analysis found children are not safe at their own homes, as most of the rapes are perpetrated by acquaintances within the family.
She called upon all government agencies engaged in child protection to be more responsible and urged cooperation for the protection of children's rights.
Reserve seat lawmaker Aroma Dutta compared the prevailing situation of violence against women and children in the country to a "solar eclipse."
She highlighted the need for a separate ministry or department to work closely for the protection of children's rights, and urged all to work together for policy formulation, performance and intensive supervision of work.
Muhibuzzaman, joint secretary to the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, said the crisis in child safety is worrying. He suggested addressing existing problems through social mobilization.
Speakers also said society needs to pay more attention to correcting the mentality of rapists.