Important work to stop child marriage
– Child marriage pushes girls to take life-threatening risks, says Moushumi Rahman. She works at Manab Kallyan Parished, MKP, one of Diakonia’s partner organisations in Bangladesh that aims to eliminate child marriages. The organization was part of a grass root movement that managed to stop the government of Bangladesh from lowering the age of marriage.
In late 2014, the government proposed a bill that would raise the punishment severely for those who perform or facilitate child marriage. At first glance, the proposed law looked like good news. But MKP and other civil society organizations soon discovered that the bill also proposed to lower the age limit by two years, which for women would mean a 16-year-old limit. In Bangladesh, 64 per cent of all women aged between 20 and 24 were child brides.
– Child marriages limit girls right to education and a dignified life. If the age limit for marriage were to be lowered, it would make them even more vulnerable, says Moushumi Rahman at MKP.
Many drop out of school
Early marriage is a violation of human rights, a form of violence against women, and a health risk. When girls get married and are given heavy household responsibilities, it becomes difficult for them to continue their education and many drop out of school. In Bangladesh, studies also show that early marriage is linked to the extremely high rate of domestic violence in the country. In addition, early marriage and early pregnancy involve serious health risks for both mother and child.
The civil society knew that they had to act quickly when the Bangladeshi government proposed the new bill. Different networks – including a big women’s advocacy network and several youth organisations – mobilised and organised different activities. They formed human chains in public places to raise awareness of the proposed law, and submitted memorandums to different district authorities and to the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs.
The changes were postponed
Because of the grassroots mobilisation and the massive protests by activists both in cities and in rural areas, the government decided to postpone the changes to the legal marriage age. However, the struggle is not over yet.
MKP and other CSO:s are continuing the fight for the government to completely withdraw the proposal to lower the age limit for marriage, and pushing them to reduce child marriage. One of the problems is that although the legal age of marriage in Bangladesh is 18 for women and 21 for men, the punishment for breaking the law is so low that many simply ignore it. Issues related to marriage are widely considered to be a family matter rather than a decision for the individual or State.
"Are we going backwards?"
Rabiul Azam, director of MKP, asks himself:
– Women are suffering within their homes. How can we end all these incidents? Are we going backwards?
Bangladeshi human rights activists have long been demanding changes to the marriage law so that it can become a real deterrent and help stop child marriage. In Bangladesh, all Diakonia’s projects aim at hindering child marriage either directly or indirectly. Supporting the work of organisations like MKP is one of the ways of doing this.
Diakonia’s team in Bangladesh has shared this story as part of 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence.