The survey identified an average of 1.7 child marriages per day during the lockdown
During the seven months from April to October last year, 13,886 child marriages took place in 84 upazilas in 21 districts of the country.
The data comes from a survey report by the Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF), titled "Rapid Analysis of Child Marriage during Covid-19."
The survey, conducted in 33% of the districts in the country, spoke to unmarried girls aged between 10 to 19, parents under the age of 18 who are married, parents who have daughters aged 10 to 19, and service providers.
The information was gathered through telephone and direct interviews, which were collected by MJF affiliates.
Earning difficulties, lack of security, school closure, and the loss of income amidst the pandemic were the key reasons for child marriage according to the report, with 30% of respondents adding that they married their daughters off due to poverty and difficulties in daily life.
There was an average of 1.7 child marriages per day during the lockdown.
Of the 20,575 respondents, 5,099 also added that they had unexpected pregnancies during the pandemic period.
The survey also found that 77.9% of the respondents are aware of the legal ages set for marriage.
Despite the legal guidelines, marriage registrars from different areas have registered 4,866 marriages during the coronavirus period.
Almost 5,000 child marriages have also been registered with the utilization of fake age certificates.
The survey report was presented through a webinar on Thursday. The survey was conducted and reported by MJF, in collaboration with UNFPA, UNICEF and Plan International.
According to the survey, 37% of respondents said they have seen at least one child marriage in their neighborhood during the pandemic period.
Of the girls who have been victims of child marriage, 50.6% were between the ages of 16 to 17, 47.7% were between the ages of 13 to 15, and 1.7% of girls were between the ages of 10 to 12.
The highest number of child marriages recorded was in Barguna, with 1,512 marriages, followed by Kurigram with 1,272, Nilphamari with 1,222, Laxmipur with 1,041 and Kushtia with 884 marriages.
The study also found that in 78% of child marriages, parents or guardians are the ones who took the initiative.
However, 96% of the respondents think that child marriage should be stopped.
A better Bangladesh
Arpita Das, program coordinator and senior program manager of Manusher Jonno Foundation, highlighted the content of the survey.
Shaheen Anam, executive director of MJF, said: “Bangladesh has the highest rate of child marriage among South Asian countries, 51%. The rate of child marriage is high; Bangladesh is among the top 10 countries in the world. The helplessness of the girls has been proven again during the corona period.”
A survivor, Shima Akhter, shared her experience - after her father passed away 10 years ago, her mother was working as the sole breadwinner of the family, and was working as a maid. However after the lockdown, there was no work for her mother due to restrictions. As a result, they were reliant on support from her brother's family in order to survive.
During this time, her brother tried to force her to get married, without informing her prior to the arrangement. She was able to escape the situation later, and managed to break the marriage with the help of local field workers. She added that the incident happened about a year ago.
Ram Chandra Das, director general, Department of Women Affairs (DWA) said: “A better generation is needed for a better Bangladesh. And for that, we have to reduce unwanted incidents like child marriage, domestic violence, and rape from Bangladesh.”
Muhibuzzaman, joint secretary of the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, said it is an alarming issue where about 5,000 child marriages have been registered despite the provision of punishment.
He added that an effort will be made to identify the Qazi, and they will be brought under punishment as their actions have been illegal.
He said: “We will also work with non-governmental organizations on these types of surveys. We will take further measures with the help of local elected representatives, field workers, district officers, and law enforcement.”
Plan International Country Director Orla Murphy, UNFPA Deputy Representative Dr. Eiko Narita, and UNICEF Deputy Representative Veera Mendonca were also present at the event.
Recommendations from the event include increasing scholarships for girls from poor families, raising awareness in the media, and involving religious leaders in preventing child marriage.
A major difference in the awareness and practice of child marriage has been observed in this survey.