IT IS disparaging that about 20,000 girls around the world are married off illegally every day, with child marriage deeply rooted in tradition despite being outlawed in a number of countries. About 7.5 million girls, as New Age reported on Thursday, become child brides every year in countries where child marriage is banned, according to a World Bank report. A sense of social insecurity has been a cause of child marriage, especially in Bangladesh. In rural areas, parents still fear the social stigma of having girls aged above 18 staying at home. Others fear crimes such as rape, which not only would be a traumatic hangover but might lead to less acceptance of any girl as a bride if she becomes a victim of such a crime. Another fear is that an unmarried girl may engage in illicit relationships, or elope causing a permanent social blemish to her siblings, or that the impoverished family may find it difficult to get bachelors for grown-up girls in their own social stratum. Such fears and social pressures are usually looked upon as cardinal causes that lead to child marriage. Poor parents, thus, often view marriage as a means to ensure their daughter’s financial security and to reduce the economic burden of a growing adult on the family.
Child marriage and adolescent pregnancy are related issues. That Bangladesh ranks third in the world and first in Asia with regard to adolescent pregnancy, as pointed out in the World Population Report 2013, is a matter of dubious distinction, and, thus, worrisome too, for the country as it is a testimony to a foolhardy approach of a section of parents towards their daughters’ marriage. According to another report, in Bangladesh about 17 per cent of girls get married before reaching 15 while most of them give birth to two children before reaching 18 years. Another chilling piece of information from the report is that 198 pregnant mothers die while giving birth in every one lakh pregnant mother. And most of them are adolescent mothers. They give birth to underweight babies, if they do not die. But most of these babies are victims of growth retardation, an outcome of chronic malnutrition. It is no wonder that an estimated 45 per cent children, under the age of five, are affected by growth retardation. Malnutrition affects the natural growth and physical and mental development of children badly. Simply put, this is essentially the fallout of child marriage and adolescent pregnancy. Apart from causing an adverse impact on an adolescent mother’s health, early marriage deprives her of her fundamental human rights.
Under the circumstances, a heightened social awareness and stringent enforcement of the laws are expected to reduce the vulnerability of children, especially girls, to early marriage. Fight against it should also be waged on political and economic fronts.
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