Child marriage is one of the oldest problems in Bangladesh, and due to the current pandemic situation, it may turn more vulnerable. Recently it has been seen that the rise of the death rate is higher than before. Most of the male members are facing greater risk of being affected by the virus than that of the female members in a family.
On 20th May 2020, World Economic Forum published an article where it has warned that due to corona virus, more than four million girls are at threat of early and enforced marriage. As per the UN population data, 2019 regarding women, India is in the first place, child marriage victimized 15,509,00women and it is a matter of great misfortune that Bangladesh is holding the second position having a number of 4,451,000.
People of Bangladesh were leading a healthy life before the entry of COVID-19. However, immediately after the entry of COVID-19, the pandemic situation has brought a considerable change in their life style. The conventional problem may not leave-rather, it might change the way it used to create problems.
Bangladesh is still in that kind of situation where the earning source of a family is a male. So, the family that lost its earning source because of the death of the male member, will try to reduce its burden which is often the female child as still in this era the female child is considered as extra stress, and this is soon going to be a reason of early child marriage due to the current situation.
Apart from the financial crisis, the increased rate of rape is also termed as a reason for early or child marriage. Bangladesh Mahila Parishad says in a recent report that from March-2020 to May-2020, a total number of 90 women and 116 children became victims of rape. This means the rate of rape cases did not decrease during this lockdown period.
This lockdown period has made this thing more and more brutal than ever. A female child or a woman is being molested by their own family members. It is also found that after being abused by someone of the neighborhood a girl is made bound to get married hideously, and no one is informed about it. Moreover, the main focus of people, news reporters, police, and other public servants has been shifted to the death scenes of the corona virus for which the brutal incidents of domestic violence, molestations, or child marriages do not rise above and reach to people. Also it becomes quite impossible for the victims to go and seek justice as the least amount of people dealing with issues like this are present in their respective sectors.
A recent report has shown that the rate of early child marriage has already been increased in South Sudan, Afghanistan, and India due to this pandemic situation which helps to take this assumption that at any time, the same thing can happen in Bangladesh as well. According to the UNICEF report, 2017, in Bangladesh the rate of child marriage is 59%, and it holds the fourth position.
Different types of national and international organizations in Bangladesh are working against child marriage. CARE is an international humanitarian organization where a part of their mandate includes the reduction of child marriage through targeting the provision of Education for Girls. Similarly, Save the Children works around the world in development programs related to child protection and child marriage prevention. National Plan of Action has introduced many strategies to eliminate child marriage from Bangladesh. Their goal is to conclude marriage of girls aged below15 years, reducing of marriage rate of girls aged below 18 years by one third within 2021 and eliminating child marriages by 2041.
The government of Bangladesh has also taken some initiatives related to this issue, which is worth many criticisms. It has enacted a new Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017, which is fatuous from the previous one. The concept of the act becomes vague due to some inadequate sections. Section 19 of the act conceptualizes that marriage of the minor if solemnized for the benefit of the minor, at the directions of the court and with guardian’s consent, it will not be an offence. Not only in the lockdown but also before that many families who made their daughters bound to get married after the molestation took place and then used this sort of section as defense saying that this marriage had to be done because of the wellbeing of the minor. This section is a strong defense of the culprits. A new special ordinance should be passed for the post-pandemic situation and the policymakers should ensure its quick initiative.
Prevention of child marriage is not the sole responsibility of the government and organizations but also of every other individual living in society. Local school teachers or Upazila Nirbahi Officers are currently unable to stop child marriages by not being present on the spot because of maintaining social distance. So, now informing registered organizations is the duty of the neighbors.
The government should enforce law enforcement agencies to be more careful about child marriage, and a special team should always be ready to save the victim. The community or religious leaders should be enlightened about the matter through both legal and moral aspects. Engaging and educating these powerful and influential men can be a key to change the attitude of a community that supports child marriage.
Lastly, prevention is better than cure, and everyone has learned it by heart in childhood. Now it is time to use this learning before any wrong incident takes place. Necessary steps should be taken quickly in the initiation of a new policy and ordinance in order to reduce child marriage. So preventive measures regarding financial crisis and rape must be taken right now by the policymakers, or else this country should prepare itself to see another catastrophic crisis.
Fahmin Chowdhury is a law student from Bangladesh University of Professionals