Imagine, just for a second, being a child in Bangladesh. Now imagine having to withdraw you’re your school, being raped by your husband, and potentially dying in childbirth. This is the reality for hundreds of thousands of girls living in Bangladesh today who are forced into arranged marriages. If we want to understand why child marriage is a problem in Bangladesh, we need to realize that it’s a multifaceted issue and solutions to its prevention are expansive.
Child marriage is classified as a forced marriage because a girl is too young and cannot legally consent to a marriage. Reasons, why parents marry their girls off early, vary but some of the most common are social values, dowry, poverty, desire, and control of women’s personality. The patriarchal society in Bangladesh and its preference towards male makes growing up as a girl very difficult. Child Marriage affects a child’s emotional, physical, and social health as well, they learn how to grow up much faster than need be.
Early marriage also has a significant effect on the entire Bangladeshi community as well. It instills social norms that put women in a secondary status to men. The solution to the prevention of child marriage are expansive but are slowly becoming more accessible to developing countries.
In Bangladesh, it is important to account for the fact that child marriage is illegal and has the potential to be penalized. Under the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929, a person cannot marry under the age of 18. This act has been revised throughout the years to include certain stipulations. But its prime objective is to prevent child marriage from occurring in Bangladesh. More recently, a new loophole in the law developed that allows girls under the age of 18 to marry in certain situations.
Barry writes “Bangladesh’s Parliament softened its landmark law against underage marriage on Monday (in August 2018) which allows girls under the age of 18 to marry in some circumstances” This change was meant to please Islamic groups who were pushing the government towards looser laws regarding child marriage. Parents or guardians must go to a can get a court order for a child to be married if it’s in her best interests. Marrying a child for unspecified purposes is a testament to the strong patriarchal culture that exists within Bangladesh. This loophole also defeats the entire purpose of the CMRA which is one of the only legal ways to protect girls from early marriage. Child marriage in any capacity carries harmful effects for the child and its community.
The patriarchal society in Bangladesh and its preference towards male makes growing up as a girl very difficult. Patriarchy is the most dominant feature where child marriage is culturally sanctioned. Bangladeshi culture, in particular, tends to places a strong emphasis on male preference as they are deemed more capable than girls. Being a girl in Bangladesh is frowned upon because they are not seen as big contributors to the household financially.
Kamal writes “Early Childhood Marriage has become the norm in most of the traditional societies based on agricultural economics where social and economic ties are strong” A large portion of Bangladesh GDP comes from agriculture. Therefore, there are strong ties between agricultural economics and Bangladesh social structure. Bangladesh has a long history of early marriage and early childrearing within its urban and rural communities. Although, nowadays child marriage seems to be constrained to predominately rural areas. Additionally, the timing of marriage is largely influenced by religious beliefs, cultural traditions, and development in a society which is all prominent in Bangladesh.
Marriage is often used as a blockade to preventing premarital sex but marrying children under the age of 18 are detrimental in so many facets. Girls who are married off earlier than they are ready to face detrimental consequences themselves and their communities at large.
Adolescents cannot make informed decisions regarding sex and reproductive health until 15 because there haven’t gone through the appropriate development. These marriages also take a girls autonomy to make decisions regarding the most basic of things. She loses control over her entire world usually in the entirety of one day. Additionally, once a girl is married she is faced with a myriad of challenges that are one hundred percent preventable. Girls in Bangladesh are subjected to rape, domestic violence, and early mortality just because of being married too early. Later on in this paper, I will go into further details about these specific emotional, physical and social challenges.
The reasons for why parents choose to marry their girls off early vary around the world but some of the most common ones are social values, dowry, poverty, desire, and control of women’s personality. Social values are one of the key factors that influence child marriage in Bangladesh. In Bangladeshi society, girls are transferred to other families through marriage. When a girl gets married to her husband she becomes that families responsibility, therefore the financial burden of the child is now non-existent for the girls family. A disturbing fact in Bangladesh is that girls as young as 7 are considered old enough to get married. While this is on the extreme end of the age girls are getting married it remains a shocking fact.
Chowdhury writes “To marry off the girls is regarded as a divine command and if girls are not given in marriage it is believed that they will succumb to immorality, which is a violation of their chastity.” Religion is one of the many things that control Bangladeshi social values. In this country, religion dictates marriage as a divine command from God. If the girl doesn’t get married early she may lose her virginity which is in violation of her chastity. Religion dominates the way people think and go about their daily lives in Bangladesh which is why child marriage is often overlooked. If God says that marrying a child early is correct then there must be nothing wrong with it is a common belief among parents.
An additionally reason parents marry their children off early is the extreme poverty that exists in Bangladesh. Having a girl is considered a financial burden to families but when they are married off that financial burden is lifted. Although poverty has decreased in Bangladesh, fifty- five of the population still live under the poverty line. With more than having the population living under the poverty line, it is not hard to realize why Child Marriage is an issue. The patriarchal influence in Bangladeshi also impacts parents living in poverty as they are more likely to choose their sons over their daughters. With all of these entities considered it is no wonder why child marriage is occurring all over Bangladesh.
Poverty and desire go hand and hand as being key reasons why child marriage happens in this country. In Bangladeshi culture, marriage is considered an inseparable part of life and parents begin to dream about marriage once a child has been born (Chowbury). The desire for girls to get married starts off when they first enter the world. This leads families down a dangerous road which eventually exposes their child to the harmful effects of early marriage.
Control over a women’s personality is an essential part of Bangladeshi culture. The overwhelming preference towards male places women as secondary citizens to men. When couples find out they are having a baby girl they are often frightened and sad. Males are supposed to take care of the parents as they age and become the main breadwinner. Thus, depriving them of their education and ability to become self-reliant. When girls get married early their education stops which is not beneficial to her or her community. Without proper education, girls continue to stay in the cycle of poverty by believing the men have the right to control every single aspect of their life’s.
There are several factors to why control over women’s personalities contributes to the alarming rates of child marriage. Patriarchy is a social value buried within religious and cultural sectors of Bangladesh. Women are taught that there is no other option than to marry and become a wife. After she becomes a wife she is then expected to tend to her husband’s needs and eventually bear children. When a pre-teen or teenager gets married it stops their life in its tracks; after getting married the girl can no longer advance in life. She becomes an object for a man to control who then make decisions regarding her autonomy. The last notable reason for girls being married off early can be seen in the form of dowry.
In rural Bangladesh, dowry means daabi, or demand (Abdullah). Dowry is defined as property or valuable security which the bride party gives, or agrees to give to the bridegroom part as an essential requirement of marriage (Yudkin). This property can take shape in the form of money, houses, cars, and land. In poorer parts of the country more simpler things that a family would consider valuable is used for dowry. When a dowry is given a woman is forever indebted to her husband’s family. Her family has made a great deal of sacrifice to marry her off and secure her so-called future.
The financial burden after the dowry has been paid is now on the grooms family. They are therefore responsible for the wellbeing and health of their new family member. Dowry is different based on income levels but they lock girls into a life of challenges. Out of off the factors that facilitate child marriage, dowry is the one that glues it all together.
Aside from the factors that facilitate child marriage, the practices itself comes with a host of physical, emotional, and social challenges for young girls. Some of these challenges are depression, lower schooling level, lower social status than men, less reproductive control, and high rates of maternal mortality and domestic violence. Child Marriage changes the rest of a girl’s life by completely taking away any autonomy she ever had over her mind and body.
The first two challenges depression and lower school level go hand in hand. When a child is not allowed to continue her education she lacks the ability to learn about appropriate intimate relationships and what her body does. This disconnect creates abusive relationships between the child bride and her husband. High rates of depression come from the lack of control a child bride experiences while getting married and years after the marriage has even begun (Chowbury). The combination of lack of education and high rates of depression is disastrous for the adolescent mind. There is a huge need for girls to continue onto secondary education so child marriage can be prevented.
Less control over reproductive rights and autonomy is a huge problem for child brides. Rape is common among abusive relationships when a child is married too early. The girl lacks the appropriate knowledge to know what is okay and what’s not. Therefore they don’t question when condoms aren’t used during consensual or non-consensual sex. Girls see the sisters getting pregnant at ridiculously earlier ages and then think it’s normal. A girls body is not developed enough to give birth safely when their 11, 12, 13 years old.
Babies have been more safely at these ages but it’s not recommended because of lack of data about pre-adolescent and adolescent birth rates in the country (Abdullah) Lack of reproductive control leads to male superiority from the start of the marriage. The men control when and how their child brides will get pregnant. This lack of control also leads to an increase in domestic violence. Men will often beat, rape, and psychological abuse their wife’s until they are satisfied. While this might seem like a harsh opinion of the character of Bangladeshi men, it remains a cold hard fact that domestic violence is one of the most dangerous parts of child marriage.
Other than domestic violence being commonly seen as an integral and sad part of child marriage, there is also the alarming rates of maternal mortality of adolescent mothers. Children’s bodies aren’t developed enough to give birth safely when they’re in the early teens. They are physically and mentally not ready to bring a child into the world as the consequences of child marriages produces babies who mothers die in childbirth. A teenage mother is particularly prone to anemia, and her body will not yet be fully developed (Yudkin).
Anemia is the lack of iron in the blood, it’s making the process of giving birth particularly dangerous. If a teen is anemic and hemorrhages while giving birth she can easily pass away. Studies have shown that 15-to 19-year-old mothers are twice as likely to die in childbirth as mothers aged between 20 and 24 (Yudkin). If this isn’t an initiative to stop child marriage, I don’t know what else we can do. People are losing their daughters, sisters, and mothers because of something that is one hundred percent preventable. Maternal mortality from child marriage is a significant challenge that child brides face every day.
As we have seen from above, child marriage has terrifying physical, emotional, and social consequences for young women. What is even more devastating is the horrific impact it has on that child’s community. Child marriage instills a persistent cause for patriarchy in Bangladeshi society. A women’s entire autonomy is controlled by her husband. In Bangladesh, female sexuality is controlled through early marriage and the custom of purdah (which limits the social interactions between men and women). This control is demonstrated through the use of non-consensual sex and domestic violence.
By facilitating a culture of an abusive patriarchy young boys grow up thinks that it’s okay to rape and abuse young women. The custom of purdah also significantly controls female sexuality in Bangladesh. The custom limits social interactions between men and women creating a myriad of social problems. When men are put before and separated from women its teaches them that women are inferior to them. This ignorance leads to unnecessary abusive relationships that carry throughout generations. In order to change this fundamental changes must be made starting at the highest level of government in order to prevent child marriage and support its victims.
Child Marriage is also affecting the community in the lack of education of hundreds of thousands of girls in Bangladesh. Having uneducated women leads to generational cycles of abuse as well. Women aren’t aware of their rights and often think what their husbands are doing to them is okay because of lack of education. In Bangladesh, the literacy rate for women is only thirty-eight point one percent (Abdullah) which is very alarming. The further a girl is able to get in her education the better outcomes she will have for her future.
Taking a girls education away not only hurts them but the entire community as well. With graduation from secondary school or even university girls can contribute to a greater capacity financially to their communities. Allowing girls the chance to learn and better themselves can interrupt years of generational poverty and abuse. Child marriage is the primary reason that Bangladeshi girls lag behind boys in education. Simply stopping child marriage can give girls equal equality and greater control of their individual autonomy.
Study after study has demonstrated that child marriage contributes to sky-rocketing rates of domestic violence within a community. Abdullah writes “The impact of child marriage on domestic violence and empowerment of women shows empirical evidence that child marriage increases the incidence of domestic violence and lowers economic empowerment of women” This author clearly demonstrates a clear linkage to domestic violence and child marriage. Child marriages lower the economic empowerment of women which therefore hurts the community at large. With child marriage facilitating such atrocious violence it only makes sense that the child’s community would suffer.
Domestic Violence makes a full circle generation after generation because of child marriage. It has become so normalized for child brides they don’t even recognize as a form of abuse anyone (Abdullah). A recent development for the economic empowerment of women in Bangladesh has been the introduction of microfinancing. Sadly, this development also confirms that that microfinance empowers women in Bangladesh – with the exception of women who have experienced child marriage. Moreover, younger wives face increased inequality in the household due to their relatively lower bargaining power (Abdullah). Domestic violence doesn’t only hurt child brides and their communities but it also affects the earning power of women across Bangladesh.
Taking everything previously stated about the devastating effects of child marriage into account there is thankfully a movement towards the elimination and prevention of child marriage. The solutions to eliminating and preventing child marriage are however expansive. The very act of changing an entire tradition is a huge undertaking.
There are fabulous international organizations like Girls, not Brides doing vital work within Bangladesh through education about the harmful effects of child marriage and supporting its victims. While governments and NGOs are doing all they can to aid in the prevention of child marriage, constant and fundamental change must be made on a societal level. This includes things like changing male attitudes towards child marriage, including women’s and sexual reproductive studies in all education levels, engaging mass media outlets, and economic empowerment. While in the next few paragraphs I will go into detail about these prevention effects it’s important to understand that these changes could possibly take decades to take effect.
The state should take adequate measures to change male attitudes that are the main cause of child marriage. In order to change these attitudes, we need to first look at what is causing them. Bangladesh is a society deeply entrenched in patriarchal dominance over women. This dominance controls how women are treated, what jobs they have, and what roles they have within familial structures. The process of changing these attitudes will take a multisystem effort. Bangladeshi citizens need to made aware that these attitudes are flowing into beliefs about child marriage. They also must be educated on how child marriage alters the life’s of young girls across Bangladesh.
Once these two things are accomplished attitudes will hopefully slowly begin to shift. Parents will recognize that just because they have these belief systems doesn’t mean they have to follow through with them. They will be able to recognize that these beliefs are causing harmful effects for their daughters in the long run. A fundamental change in male attitudes towards child marriage can aid in the prevention and potential elimination of this extremely harmful practice that is engrained within Bangladeshi culture. It will also teach the next generation of males that child marriage is not beneficial for anyone and it only hurts people.
Another method of prevention includes inserting women’s studies and sexual education into all education levels. From primary to higher levels of education, women’s studies should be included in the syllabus. Implementing women’s studies into primary school will teach the youngest of students about women’s roles in society and the negative attitudes surrounding them. A recent app in Bangladesh has prevented over thousands of marriages in Bangladesh. It works by verifying birth documents to prove that a child is legally eligible to marry.
This app helps to create a safety net for potential victims of child marriage which is crucial. Education about this app to secondary school students is important so they know of its existence. Additionally, part of the reason why the effects of child marriage are so widespread is that of lack of sex education. Sex education is the next vital part of preventing child marriage in the long run.
Adolescents must learn when it is appropriate to have sex and if they choose to have sex how to engage in the practice safely. They will also be able to learn about the complications of teenage pregnancy and risk of maternal mortality as a consequence of child marriage. Overall, the implementation of women’s studies and sex education is vital to the overall outcome of the prevention of early marriage.
Mass media can play an important role in raising the public’s awareness of the dangers associated with child marriage. If the state cannot ensure the security of women, then the people of Bangladesh will set in their belief that women are weak and in constant need of the protection of male guardians (Chowbury). This will only further encourage the practice of child marriage throughout the country.
Mass Media can play a role in the prevention of child marriage; since people pay a lot of attention to it messages about the harmful effects of child marriage has the potential to reach millions of people. Telling the stories of survivors of child brides and how their lives have been permanently altered by this practice is an important first step. The less taboo of a topic child marriage become the more resources can be directed towards its overall prevention. When news gets out to be about something that is hurting their children they tend to get angry.
Hopefully the citizens Bangladesh can use this anger to begin to create fundamental change. Patriarchal attitudes can also be present in the mass media so it’s important to deliver news about the harmful effects of child marriage in the most strategic way possible. Mass media has the potential to aid in the prevention and eventual elimination of child marriage it just must be done in a way that is appropriate.
The last prevention effort I’m going to be talking about is how the empowerment theory asserts that empowerment is a process, which helps women to increase their own self-reliance, to make choices and to earn economic independence (Abdullah). Empowering women can have wonderful effects for not only the individual women but the community at large. By putting more money into the economy through successful women-run businesses the effects would be felt throughout Bangladesh.
Empowerment can stop child marriage by giving women the autonomy to make their own financial decisions. If the mother in the family has a successful business there is no need to marry off their daughter. Women empowerment through microloans has the potential to lift millions of women and families out of poverty. In Bangladesh, women are considered secondary to men which put their economic empowerment on the back burner. Micro-loans provides women-owned small business the chances to obtain the necessities to get their business off and running.
The Grameen model is famous for organizing women into groups for raising their collective consciousness, strengthening their group solidarity, and assisting them to attain greater socio-economic empowerment in the society (Abdullah). This company has helped many businesses become successful. When women can begin to get onto an equal playing field with their husband they can facilitate a better future for their daughters that doesn’t include child marriage.
In August of 2018, the Bangladeshi government launched a national action plan to put an end to marriages of girls aged less than 18 years through institutional initiatives, programs, and joint efforts. The plan, which is being developed jointly with UNICEF, aims to put an end to marriages of girls under the age of 15, reduce by one-third the rate of marriage of 18-year- olds by 2021 and completely eliminate child marriage by 2041 (Abdullah). This plan will stop child marriage in the next four decades which will be vital to Bangladesh development.
The initiative to work with UNICEF on this task is a great start for the Bangladeshi government who in all honesty wouldn’t be able to pull this off independently. The government is too engrossed in its patriarchal society to accomplish this alone. Seeing the end of child marriage will be a step forward for Bangladesh to become a model for gender equality. Only time will tell to truly see if the Bangladeshi government fulfills its promise to eliminate child marriage. But, at least for now they have begun to take a serious position on the matter.
To see prevention efforts in action one must look at the incredible work of the Dhaka Ashania Mission. They have multiple facets to their organization all of which are trying to conquer a variety of social issues within Bangladesh. Their Stop Child Marriage (SCM) project was initiated in 2012 with the goal of supporting girls and young women in Bangladesh to realize their rights to protection and education through reduction of child marriage.
Their plan for this reduction had four parts (Protection against violence: working for better protection for girls and young women, Participation: Participation in socio-political activity by girls and young women, Economic participation: Enhancing economic opportunities for girls and young women, and Post-primary education: Enhancing (secondary) education for girls and young women (Dhaka Ashania Mission). Since 2012 they have implemented this project to the best of their ability and impacted many life’s along the way.
This specific project was funded by Plan Bangladesh (part of Plan International) in order to aid in the prevention of child marriage. As seen through this project it takes money to develop programs that have the ability to create change. Creating greater access to funds to local NGOs is an important step in developing additional resources to help prevent child marriage and support its victims.
Since we have gone in depth about the reasons behind child marriage, it’s devastating effects on victims and their communities, and prevention efforts being made, we need to also consider how international opinions on child marriage affect the ability to eliminate the practice. The western opinion of child marriage is that is a horrific practice that ruins the life’s of adolescent girls throughout Bangladesh. International aid organizations warn developing countries about its terrible outcomes and the need for further prevention.
But in Bangladesh, even though child marriage is considered illegal it’s a social value so greatly immersed within the patriarchy its hard for the Bangladeshi community to see how it’s harmful. When generation after generation has been raised with the same practice it’s just something that is considered normal. While the western world is shocked by child marriage countries like Chad, Niger, and Bangladesh which have the highest rates of child marriage in the world don’t consider it a life or death problem for its citizens. But what the western world neglects to realize it’s that child marriage is not just limited to the developing world.
In some states in the U.S. teens as young as 15 can get married with or without parental consent. Since they are so focused on it being a problem in countries like Bangladesh they neglect to realize it’s occurring in their own backyard. Child Marriage is a multifaceted issue in Bangladesh with expansive solutions and varying international opinions on how to eliminate the practice. Children who face child marriage are at risk for a myriad of physical, emotional, and social challenges. Some of which include lack of education, rape, domestic violence, high rates of depression, and maternal mortality. Child marriage doesn’t only affect children but it also affects their community at large.
These effects include a women’s secondary status to men, girls dropping out of school, a patriarchal attitude that is hurtful to generation after generation, and most significantly domestic violence. The correlation between domestic violence and child marriage is astounding and saddening to witness.
Domestic violence is highly misunderstood because women are often blamed for so-called antagonizing their husbands. The solutions to the prevention and eventual elimination of child marriage are expansive and require fundamental changes to be made within Bangladeshi culture. While NGOs are putting a band-aid on the issue by initiating local prevention program this is not a long-term solution. Child Marriage will only stop when countries realize their attitudes, cultural and religious traditions, and history are all factors in the harmful practice. Children deserve to have a childhood that is free from having to perform the role of wife and mother at inappropriate ages.