Three of the young girls in our Girls Education Program in Bangladesh have recently been forced into illegal child marriages, and we are fighting to have those illegal child marriages reversed and to ensure that no more girls are similarly abused. Many people have been asking why Bangladesh has such a problem with child marriage. Here are a few thoughts.
First, a few numbers about child marriage globally. Bangladesh is one of the global hot-spots for child marriage with an estimated 66% of girls being married before their 18th birthday. This places Bangladesh 4th in the world in percentage of girls married by that age, following only Niger, Chad and the Central African Republic. In fact, 15 of the 20 countries with the highest such rates are in Africa. Bangladesh's neighboring countries in south Asia, India (47%) and Nepal (41%), also are in the top 20 of this unfortunate list. The UN estimates that 142 million girls under the age of 18 will be married over the decade from 2010 to 2020, 14.2 million a year, which calculates to a nearly unbelievable number of 39,000 child marriages every day. I'm not sure if that number is entirely accurate, but even if the true number is only half that, or if only half these marriages were to be considered exploitative, that would still be more than 800 child marriages per hour, every hour. Truly overwhelming numbers.
Many of the reasons for child marriage in Bangladesh are inter-connected, and they are almost all related to poverty in some way. The fact is that where there is poverty and systemic injustice, and where women are not equal with men, a lot of terrible things happen, including child marriage. Here are several of the main reasons that Bangladesh has such a high percentage of child marriages.
(1) TRADITION AND RELIGION. It’s been done that way for a long while, so in many villages things naturally gravitate towards child marriage; the traditional belief in appropriate women’s’ roles, which for many are only to get married and have children, creates an atmosphere where anything that seems to threaten that path for a girl is potentially negative, including remaining in school past the 6th or 7th grade; and there is in some places overtly discriminatory religious teaching which encourages early marriages and preaches against girls' empowerment or girls' education;