Ending child marriage

Towards evolution of social behaviour

মেয়ে শিশু
UNICEF/UNI159909/Khan

The challenge

Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of child marriages in the world

The practice of child marriage reflects deep-rooted norms and unequal status of girls in society as females are often seen as financial burdens. It has decreased in the 30 years, but rather slowly.

Poverty and low literacy are deciding factors, but evidence suggests that child marriage is practiced across all backgrounds and social divides.

Over 50 per cent of Bangladeshi women who are now in their mid-20s were married before they turned 18. Nearly 18 per cent were below 15 years of age.

Parents wield major influence in the marriage of their children in South Asian cultures.

Girls are usually burdened with maintaining their family’s honour. When a girl child reaches puberty, parents worry about protecting her chastity.

It is a major barricade to stopping child marriage. Because parents who decide to marry off girl children feel a real or perceived fear of sexual violence at onset of puberty, according to a recent research.

But many married adolescents experience and accept physical and sexual violence. As many as 33 per cent of adolescent girls believe a husband is justified in hitting his wife.

The perception of girls choosing to begin sexual activity outside of marriage is also seen as a threat to social norms. They are considered ‘stained’ for perceived compromise of ‘purity and honour’.

However, the majority of population in Bangladesh do not believe marrying children is a form of sexual violence. Adolescents who marry are therefore at the risk of early pregnancy and negative health impacts.

Girls become more vulnerable to child marriage and trafficking in the context of natural disasters caused by climate change, to which Bangladesh is highly prone.

Such norms are proven to eventually lead to compromises in terms of the survival development, protection and participation of children, particularly girls.

Children perform a drama to talk about the many risks surrounding child marriage.
UNICEF/UNI146656/Kiron
Children perform a drama to talk about the many risks surrounding child marriage.

The majority of the population in Bangladesh do not believe marrying children is a form of sexual violence

The solution

UNICEF provides high priority to the issue of child marriage as a social practice that violates the rights of children

UNICEF interventions are designed to establish new norms of delaying age of marriage for girls as part of a broader approach to changing social behaviour.

UNICEF sets up communication with communities, engaging with key decision makers and stakeholders at every level.

At the policy level, a National Plan of Action has been drafted by the government with technical support from UNICEF and other development agencies. The plan is to provide girl children the environment they need to grow and thrive.

At advocacy level, the issue of child marriage is steadily being integrated within mainstream education, health, nutrition, protection and poverty reduction programmes.

At community level, UNICEF is in constant dialogue with adolescents, parents and especially fathers who are critical to decisions over child marriage.

Our work reaches out to caregivers of children in their extended family and community, local and religious leaders as well as governmental representatives and frontline workers.

The methods for engaging with the people involve participatory theatre, community dialogues, courtyard meetings, radio and TV drama serials and phone-in shows, community declarations and others.

There have also been efforts to create awareness and develop life skills, and push for girl’s education through stipends, and empower girls to negotiate, prevent and report on child marriage.

UNICEF works to strengthen the child protection system so that laws for protecting girls from child marriage and dowry find ways to be implemented.

UNICEF supports establishment of basic facilities such as separate toilets for girls in primary and secondary schools, besides facilities for menstrual hygiene. Such interventions are proven to improve enrolment and attendance of girl students, which in the long run delays the age of marriage.  

UNICEF campaign against child marriage has been awarded for creativity and excellence. We are currently working on creating alternatives to child marriage by providing further incentives to families.