Rights activists raise alarm over surge in child marriage rate during Covid-19 outbreak, blame govt for lack of measures

A growing number of rights activist and researchers have raised concern over the rising incidents of child marriage among girl children during the coronavirus outbreak.

According to them, it has dealt a major setback to the empowerment of women in the country.

Experts said increase in child marriage could increase dropout rate after the reopening of schools across the country.

They criticised the government for its ‘failure’ to carry out any major studies to measure the rate of child marriage since the outbreak of Covid-19 outbreak in March 2020.

Manusher Jonno Foundation published conducted a study which was published on January 7. It showed that there was a 7 per cent spike in child marriage in 2020 when at least 101 child marriage incidents were reported and over 6,000 child marriage attempts were prevented.

National Helpline Centre for violence against women and children under the women and children affairs ministry received a staggering number of phone calls regarding child marriage-related incidents which increased in 2020 and 2021.

According to reports, the centre received total 13,21,167 phone calls in 2020.

Out of which 2,047 or 0.15 per cent calls were for complaining about child marriage, and till March 3 this year the centre received 1,66,196 phone calls while 477 or 0.28 per cent calls were for complaining about child marriage.

A UNICEF report published in October 2020 showed that 51 per cent of young women were married before their 18th birthday in Bangladesh.

Among the country’s entire female population, 38 million married before the age of 18, of which, 13 million married before age 15.

The report said married girls are over four times more likely to be out of school than unmarried girls.

Bangladesh has the highest prevalence of child marriage in South Asia, and is among the 10 countries worldwide with the highest rate, it added.

According to Manusher Jonno Foundation executive director Shaheen Anam, during the COVID-19 outbreak, empowerment of women, especially in rural areas, experienced a major setback economically, socially and politically.

“We’ve noticed that during the coronavirus outbreak, the number of child marriages increased manifold,” she said.

According to Anam, some parents thought that it was better to marry them off during the outbreak and on top of that, the feeling of insecurity regarding the girls was another reason behind the spike in early marriage.

After the coronavirus outbreak in March 2020, the government imposed a two-month-long lockdown across Bangladesh during which many people lost their jobs.

Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies said about 1.64 crore people became ‘new poor’ in Bangladesh due to the pandemic outbreak.

Acute economic crisis compelled many people to marry off their girl child while many female students were unlikely to join schools after reopening.

Social organisation Polli Shomaj said it prevented 371 child marriages between January and September 2019, while 97 incidents of child marriage were reported by community members.

It prevented 646 incidents of child marriage, while community members reported 146 incidents of child marriage.

According to CAMPE executive director Rasheda K Choudhury, though there were no nationwide studies, signs showed that child marriages increased during the outbreak.

She said that during the outbreak the government made an effort to check the crises in the health and economic sectors but they should also make effort in checking child marriages.

“Sadly, our government could not do much to address the damage done to society due to early marriages,” she said.

The government, however, claimed otherwise.

“It’s not true that child marriages increased during the Covid-19 outbreak,” said the state minister for social welfare Md Ashraf Ali Khan Khasru.

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