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Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)
What's the child marriage rate? How big of an issue is child marriage?
Bangladesh has the third highest prevalence of child marriage in the world, and the second highest absolute number of women married or in a union before the age of 18 globally – 4,382,000.
4% of boys are married before the age of 18.
While child marriage is moderately more common in rural areas where 60% of girls are married before age 18, compared to 55% in urban areas, the metropolitan area of Rajshahi has the highest proportion of child marriage in Bangladesh: seven out of ten girls are married by the age of 18.
A 2017 World Bank/ICRW study estimated that ending child marriage in Bangladesh could see a 12% rise in earnings and productivity for Bangladeshi women who married early.
Are there country-specific drivers of child marriage in this country?
Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that girls are somehow inferior to boys.
In Bangladesh, child marriage is also driven by:
- Poverty: There is a negative association between child marriage and household wealth. Girls are frequently considered a financial burden and they are married off to alleviate the family economy. As a result, the median age of marriage for girls living in the poorest households of Bangladesh is 15 years, compared to 18 for those living in the richest households. Dowry prices typically increase as girls get older and “less attractive”, meaning many families marry girls off at a younger age.
- Level of education:75% of women with no education are married before the age of 18. At the same time, the prevalence of child marriage is 25% lower for each percentage point increase in women’s secondary education. Evidence also suggests that teaching girls about their rights and building skills for modern livelihoods can reduce the likelihood of child marriage by up to one third in Bangladesh.
- Gender norms and family honour: There are prevailing gender norms that underline and intertwine child marriage and family honour, including the shaming of unmarried girls, the fixation over the sexual purity of younger girls and the parental responsibility of marrying girls. Nearly seven out of 10 people in Bangladesh believe that women earn their identity and social status through marriage. Because high value is placed on the virginity of girls, child marriage is often used as a way to control pre-marital sex, protect girls from (real or perceived) sexual violence and avoid stigma in case of pregnancy out of wedlock. A 2013 national study shows that fathers are most often responsible for deciding when and whom to marry their daughters to.
- Violence against women and girls: Sexual harassment and rape has increased in recent years. The number of sexual violence against women has doubled in last 10 years from 940 rapes in 2010 to 1855 in 2019, according to Bangladesh Mahila Parishad. Fear of sexual harassment, rape and kidnapping contributes in increasing the cases of child marriage because families perceived it as a protective mechanism.
- Demographics: Evidence indicates that child marriage is most common in areas of Bangladesh where the adult population is skewed toward men due the traditional preference for boys and sex-selective abortion. Younger girls are being drawn into the pool of eligible marriage partners to alleviate a squeeze in the “marriage market”.
Humanitarian settings can encompass a wide range of situations before, during, and after natural disasters, conflicts, and epidemics. While gender inequality is a root cause of child marriage in both stable and crisis contexts, often in times of crisis, families see child marriage as a way to cope with greater economic hardship and to protect girls from increased violence. In August 2017, Bangladesh received a massive influx of Rohingya refugees, fleeing persecution in Myanmar. Bangladesh is also one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, exposed to a variety of natural hazards including cyclones, floods and earthquakes. The high population density exacerbates the impact of disasters.
- Displacement: As of July 2019,around 910,000 Rohingya people had settled in the Cox’s Bazar District, escaping violence in Myanmar. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) have reported instances of child marriage among young girls in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar. Families have reported marrying off young girls to access food rations and protect them from sexual violence within camps.
Natural disasters and climate change: Natural disasters have showed to exacerbate child marriage in many regions of Bangladesh. Frequent flooding means many families live in insecure conditions and they marry off daughters as a survival tactic. For example, a 2014 study found that the economic crises created by climate challenges are leading to an increase in child and forced marriages because the dowry is cheaper for younger girls.
What has this country committed to?
Bangladesh has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. During its Voluntary National Review at the 2017 High Level Political Forum, the government noted that women’s empowerment plays a prominent role in the Constitution of Bangladesh, the National Women Development Policy and the Child Marriage Restraint Act.
Bangladesh ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990 which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18. In 2015, the CRC Committee expressed deep concerns about the prevalence of child marriage in Bangladesh. Bangladesh acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1984, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.
In 2016, as part of its periodic review, the CEDAW Committee called on Bangladesh to take measures to end the harmful practice of child marriage by addressing the root causes, raising awareness and holding accountable those responsible.
During its 2013 Universal Periodic Review, Bangladesh supported recommendations to improve efforts to protect children from forced marriage, and to more effectively implement the Child Marriage Restraint act and the Dowry Prohibition Act. During its Universal Periodic Review in 2018, Bangladesh supported similar recommendations to move towards ending child marriage, including clarifying gaps in the Child Marriage Restraint Act in order to prevent misuse of the provision allowing marriage for children below the legal age in “special circumstances”.
Bangladesh is a member of the South Asian Initiative to End Violence against Children (SAIEVAC) which adopted a regional action plan to end child marriage from 2015-2018.
Representatives of the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), including Bangladesh, asserted the Kathmandu Call to Action to End Child Marriage in Asia in 2014. As part of its commitment, Bangladesh will ensure access to legal remedies for child brides and establish a uniform minimum legal age of marriage of 18.
At the 2014 London Girl Summit, the Bangladeshi government signed a charter committing to end child marriage by 2020. During the Summit, the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also pledged that Bangladesh would end marriage under the age of 15 by 2021 and under 18 by 2041, and reduce the number of girls getting married between 15 and 18 by more than one third by 2021.
In 2019, at the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25, Bangladesh committed to reduce gender-based violence, including early and forced marriages, and ensuring the implementation of the National Action Plans to End Violence Against Women and to End Child Marriage.
Bangladesh is a partner country of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). Bangladesh is also one of 11 countries working to create child marriage-free communities by 2020 as part of the Her Choice Alliance.
What is the government doing to address this at the national level?
Bangladesh is a focus country of the UNICEF-UNFPA Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage, a multi-donor, multi-stakeholder programme working across 12 countries over four years. Since 2016, UNICEF and UNFPA have implemented and supported Bangladesh in different initiatives. In 2018, the Global Programme established anti-sexual harassment committees in 72 secondary schools and trained committee members on how to prevent sexual harassment in schools.
With the support of UNICEF, and despite stagnation of progress due to the backlash against regressive legal proposals, in August 2018 the much-awaited National Action Plan to Eliminate Child Marriage 2018-2030 (NAP) was launched under the leadership of the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, to implement the commitment of the Prime Minister and the Multi-Sectoral Programme on Violence Against Women of the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs.
The multi-sectoral National Plan of Action is the result of consultations at national and sub-national levels with different stakeholders, including civil society and adolescent girls and boys themselves. The goal of the NAP is to end the marriage of girls below 15 years of age, to reduce by one third the rate of marriage for girls below 18 years by 2021, and to eliminate child marriage by 2041. There are five implementation strategies in the NAP:
- Strategy 1: Take action to implement sector specific policies as per demand and necessity of children and adolescents.
- Strategy 2: Ensure amendment and implementation of laws, proper formulation of policies and accountability.
- Strategy 3: Develop positive social values and norms through influencing, supporting and engaging families, communities and policymakers for preventing child marriage.
- Strategy 4: Ensure empowerment of adolescent girls and boys as an agent of social change.
- Strategy 5: Promote the digitalization of education, legal, reproductive health facilities of adolescents as well as social protection system of children and ensure appropriate incentives for adolescent girls.
A monitoring and evaluation framework for the NAP was meant to be developed in 2019.
In preparation for the launch of the National Action Plan, in 2017 Bangladesh also carried out, with the support of UNICEF, a scoping analysis of the budget allocation to end child marriage. This study found that only 1.2% of the total budget of Bangladesh was dedicated to end child marriage.
In 2018, UNFPA also supported the setting up of a Parliamentary sub-committee on “preventing gender-based violence including ending child marriage”.
In February 2017, Parliament adopted a revised Child Marriage Restraint Act which is a strengthen version of the previous Act, despite widespread concerns over a provision allowing child marriage in ‘special cases’. The Act does not define what constitutes a special case. Since then, different voices have raised the alarm that such a provision will legitimise statutory rape and encourage child marriage. The President signed the bill into law on 11 March 2017. Bangladesh also made it compulsory to present a birth certificate at the time of marriage.
In October 2018 Bangladesh published “Child Marriage Restraint Rule” which provides further explanation and implementation mechanism of “Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017”. The rule also explains formation of committees at national and local level to restraint child marriage and the roles and responsibilities of the committees.
A costed National Adolescent Health Strategy (2017–2030) specifically mentions child marriage as a form of violence against adolescents, and sets strategic objectives to end child marriage, mitigate its consequences and raise awareness.
In recent years, Bangladesh has also implemented at least two national awareness raising campaign ran on radio, television, print media and social media with comprehensive messages on ending child marriage, and has set up a National Helpline to prevent violence against women, including child marriage.
Previous initiatives include the Child Marriage Free Unions (unions are the smallest rural government units in Bangladesh), which are movements led by local government and facilitated by Plan Bangladesh with the aim of enforcing existing law more effectively.
What is the minimum legal framework around marriage?
The minimum legal age for marriage in Bangladesh is 18 years for girls and 21 for boys.
However, the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017 includes a loophole where a court can allow child marriage in “special cases” (for both girls and boys). The Act does not explicitly define what those “special cases” might be, but there is fear that this loophole will allow girls under 18 in cases of rape and early pregnancy to marry their perpetrators to avoid social stigma and shame.
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* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)
National Partnership in Bangladesh
Girls Not Brides Bangladesh is the official Girls Not Brides National Partnership in Bangladesh.
Members In Bangladesh
- Alliance for Cooperation and Legal Aid Bangladesh (ACLAB)
- Amrai Pari Paribarik Nirjaton Jot (WE CAN Bangladesh)
- Arjon Foundation
- Asian University for Women
- Association of Rural Opportunity and Human Initiative (AROHI)
- Badabon Sangho
- Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST)
- Bangladesh Mahila Parishad (BMP)
- Bangladesh Model Youth Parliament
- Barisal Unnyon Sangstha (BUS)
- BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD)
- Family Planning Association of Bangladesh (FPAB)
- Grameen Development Society (GDS)
- Grameen Samaj Unnayan Kendra
- Integrated Community Development Association (ICDA)
- JAGO NARI
- Jononi Granthagar-O-Sangskritik Sangstha
- KOTHOWAIN (Vulnerable People’s Development Organization)
- Manusher Jonno Foundation
- MOMODa Foundation (MF)
- Plan International
- Population Council
- Population Services and Training Center (PSTC)
- Progetto Uomo Rishilpi International Onlus (RISHILPI)
- Reach to Unreached
- Save the Children
- Shariatpur Development Society (SDS)
- Shastho Shikkha Seba Foundation (SSSF)
- Society for People’s Education, Empowerment and Development Trust (SpeedTrust)
- Sustainable Development For Vulnerable Peoples in Bangladesh (SDVPB)
- The Hunger Project
- Udayan Kutir Silpa Protisthan (UKSP)
- United Development Initiatives for Programmed Actions (UDDIPAN)
- Voice of South Bangladesh (VoSB)
- VSO International
- Welfare Association for Development Alternative (WADA)
- White Ribbon Alliance
- Women Development Program
- Women’s Voice
- World Mission Prayer League (LAMB Hospital)
- World Vision