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How one community is changing attitudes to end child marriage in Bangladesh

How one community is changing attitudes to end child marriage in Bangladesh

Paroti on her wedding day in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh almost two out of every three girls are married by age 18 – with over one-third of girls being married before 15. 

I recently visited Dinajpur, a district in northern Bangladesh, and was happy to see that attitudes are changing – and fast.

“If any of the parents of my friends tried to marry off their daughters I would stop them,” says Sumi, age 12 as she sits on the porch of her home in her village. Her determination is clear: “I’d try to talk to them and if that failed I’d tell my female teacher at school.” 

My grandmother got married age 12, my mother age 14, but things are changing – I won’t get married young. I expect child marriage will be stopped by 2020.

Up the road, sitting in the shade under a tree is the 15-member local community-based committee. The committee was established in 1994 when Plan International began working here.

“People now understand the consequences of child marriage - families broken, girls’ health impacted, they leave education early,” says one committee member.

The Committee Chairman Binad Chandraroy proudly states that the local elected official, the Union Parishad President, declared their village and the local area ‘Child Marriage Free’ in 2014.

Leading the way to end child marriage in Bangladesh 

To bring an end to child marriage a committee member explains: “We formed a sub-committee with members from the local mosque and temple and others to explain to parents the impact of child marriage. And we made sure it was a priority in our annual plan. 

When a member of the local children’s forum told us a girl was at risk of being married secretly by her parents we tried to talk them out of it. When they didn’t listen we reported them to the Union Parishad President, he called the chief of the sub-district and law enforcement came and stopped them.

Earlier this year, the National Government brought in a law banning marriage under 16 by 2021 and marriage under 18 by 2042 – a huge step forward for girls in Bangladesh! There are concerns one article, number 19, leaves a loophole as it allows child marriage in special circumstances but a campaign is growing to repeal it.

Laws matter. But not as much as changing attitudes, especially when they are held by girls like Sumi.

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