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Preventing enforced marriages of under-age girls in Bangladesh

Two thirds of girls are married before the legal age of 18 years in Bangladesh, placing the country at number 4 in the world of developing nations with the highest proportion of early marriage.

The list of countries (headed by Niger, Chad and Mali) is presented in a new publication from Plan UK, called ‘Breaking Vows: Early and Forced Marriage and Girl’s Education’.

The report looks at the causes of early marriage, often the result of gender inequality, poverty and traditional or religious practices. And though many girls in countries like Bangladesh are married below the legal age, prosecutions are extremely rare. Inaction by the state contributes to the generally-held view that early marriage is acceptable.

The consequences of early marriage are also addressed in the report. Once they’re married, girls are expected to leave school and miss out on an education. Under-age marriage also represents a risk to health. Complications related to pregnancy and childbirth account for the largest number of deaths among girls aged 15-19 years. Adolescent girls are twice as likely to die giving birth than women over the age of 20. They are also at higher risk of suffering from violence and abuse in the home, since younger girls generally have lower self-esteem and feel more powerless in the face of domestic problems.

A number of non-governmental organisations and charities work on this issue in Bangladesh. For example, in partnership with the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), the Family Planning Association of Bangladesh (FPAB) sends workers to visit schools, where they talk about under-age marriage and sexual health issues.

In its new report, Plan also talks about its work in this area and presents case studies on how the problem can be addressed. In Bangladesh, the charity works to provide spaces and workshops where boys and girls have the opportunity to come together and discuss the issue. In one case, this kind of group provided help to a Bangladeshi girl being forced into an arranged marriage. Samina’s parents hadn’t listened to her when she told them she wanted to stay on at school. Instead, they arranged her wedding to a local man. Samina’s group of friends went to speak with her father on the wedding day and when they couldn’t stop the ceremony, the youngsters went to lobby their local union council. When they took members of the council along to the wedding, which was already underway, the proceedings were interrupted and eventually stopped. Samina was able to return to school and is now reported by Plan to be studying at college and to be grateful to her friends that the marriage never went ahead. In publishing its report and raising awareness of the issue, the charity hopes to prevent many more enforced weddings, where young girls are given no choice in their future.

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