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Dhaka Tribune Roundtable: Concerted efforts can stop child marriage, help victims progress

  • Published at 02:01 am October 25th, 2018
Discussants at the roundtable ‘Education and IGA: Opportunities and Challenges for Early Married Girls’ on Wednesday Syed Zakir Hossain

'Social, family members’ and teachers’ mindset towards the girls married off in their early life needs to change, paving the way for them to continue education, gather skills and get self-empowered'

Concerted efforts by the government, NGOs and the society can largely reduce early marriage and help its victims make a comeback and lead a prosperous life, experts and stakeholders have said.

Social, family members’ and teachers’ mindset towards the girls married off in their early life needs to change, paving the way for them to continue education, gather skills and get self-empowered, they said.

The calls were made in the roundtable titled “Education and IGA (income generating activities): Opportunities and Challenges for Early Married Girls” organised by the Dhaka Tribune as media partner of the event at its office in Dhaka on Wednesday. 

Initiatives for Married Adolescent Girls’ Empowerment or IMAGE Plus, a project working to ensure basic rights including sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) including family planning, MCH, nutrition, education, IGA and GBV of early married girls in Bangladesh, sponsored the event.

IMAGE Plus is funded by the Netherlands Embassy, implemented by Terre des Hommes Netherlands as the lead, in association with RedOrange Media & Communications as communication and strategic partner, Terre des hommes Foundation (Kurigram), SKS Foundation (Gaibandha), and Pollisree (Nilphamari) as field implementing partners.

Anwarul Islam Sarker, additional secretary of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, as the chief guest said it is easy to speak of policies and outlines to contain early marriage, but it is an uphill task when it comes to executing those.

“Then again, we are doing great in stopping child marriage with the support of NGOs, private sector and local administration,” he said.

Mahmuda Sharmeen Benu, additional secretary of the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, said the committees formed by the government in order to check child marriage will greatly decrease the trend if they work properly in the upazila and union levels. 

“If the provisions of Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017 are followed, the cases of child marriage will drop significantly,” she added.

Mushfiqua Zaman Satiar, senior adviser of SRHR and Gender of the Netherlands Embassy, said in terms of economic contribution, girls married early are almost invisible in the society. 

“So it is important that such underage brides are given economic emancipation and their role in economic growth is recognized,” she said, urging the husbands and in-laws to support them in this regard.

Only education, skills and knowledge of rights cannot help them progress if they do not get backed by their better-halves and in-laws, said the Dutch embassy officials, who also called upon the media to play a bolder role to this end.

Social Welfare Officer KM Shahiduzzaman - posted in Dhaka - said the government alone cannot address all the issues relating to child marriage owing to its manpower shortage.

According to him, the NGOs mostly focus on strategy and advocacy in sorting out the problem and the issues relating to it, and these - suggestions or observations - need to be worked on at the field level accordingly.

Mostofa Kamal, project manager (education) of VSO, hinting at a similar situation, recommended a separate policy to be adopted to facilitate education and career progress for the early married girls as dropouts. 

Dr Farhana Huq, deputy manager (MMWW Project) of ActionAid Bangladesh, expressed her concern that the country still lacks a woman-friendly market system, hindering entrepreneurship of the early married girls and other women especially in the upazilas and rural areas.

Teachers in village schools, she said, have a negative view on the early married girls as they do not treat them as regular students--- an issue that needs to be addressed.

Syeda Munira Sultana, program officer, RMG project, ILO, CO Dhaka, said girls married early are leaving schools or training institutes and getting involved in low-paying jobs.

She feared that if this situation continues, Bangladesh will face difficulties in becoming a developing nation.

She urged the government to allocate special incentives for them and if possible, bring them under the social safety net.

Humaira Aziz, director, Women and Girls Empowerment, CARE Bangladesh, said the educational institutes must consider the prevalence of early pregnancy in child marriage victims since it derails them from education.

Terre des Hommes Netherlands Bangladesh Office’s Country Director Mahmudul Kabir moderated the event and Farhana Jesmin Hasan, project director of IMAGE Plus, demonstrated a presentation.