Child marriage in Bangladesh
Being South Asian, child marriage is something we are familiar with, and its prevalence in many parts of the world. Most of our grandmothers got married early. In many cases, they were a child bride because it was the norm. While many families have changed this practice, especially those from more affluent backgrounds, it remains the reality for many girls to this day. Legally, this should not be happening, as the government has banned child marriage years ago, but we know that is far from the reality.
Most girls in rural Bangladesh continue to get married before they turn 18. Without interventions, this will remain the norm. In fact, most girls do not finish primary school in these areas. Whereas research emphasizes the impact of girls’ participation in secondary education, not just primary education, is required to reduce chances of child marriages continuing in South Asia. If education can be more accessible to girls, at least at a secondary school level, there would be an expected reduction in child marriages for girls in Bangladesh.
As parents, guardians and educators to these girls, we must think critically paving the way to make it easier to continue their education.
Relationship between child marriage and education
When girls are married at a young age, they lack proper knowledge about sexual health and reproductive control. This results in them getting pregnant and having their own kids within a few years of marriage, and they stop attending school altogether to take care of their family. So we must ask, what happens when girls drop out of schools?
The impact of getting married at a young age goes beyond missing out on education opportunities. The long-term effect of dropping out of school is remaining at a low socio-economic status, as it results in less job opportunities. It also limits their options in their own life decisions, such as reproductive control, and it correlates to higher rates of maternal mortality and domestic violence.
Comparing this to girls with higher levels of education, research has shown many positive health outcomes. By staying in school, it allows them to get married later, and delay pregnancy. On average, they have less children over the course of their lives, reducing child mortality rates as well as improving the mothers’ overall health. Research has shown that children of educated mothers also grow to be taller and weigh more.
At a socioeconomic level, girls with more education possess a greater autonomy and decision-making power over their own lives. With more labor market opportunities, they have purchasing power within their own households, and are more likely to go into the formal employment sector, as opposed to agriculture or informal jobs.
More educated girls ultimately can become better role models for their own kids and communities as well as help build a literacy ecology. In a literacy ecology, children have access to literate parents and community members, leading to improved reading and learning skills as students. To break the cycle of child marriages in future generations, bringing with it health and socio-economic benefits, it starts with enabling girls to continue their education now.
How can we improve the world for our young girls?
One of the main reasons girls are married early is because of the economic status of their own families. Girls are often seen as a financial burden, and parents don’t want to invest their limited income on schooling. One would think that if there was financial relief, girls would be able to continue with schooling. However, data shows that even after Bangladesh government’s commitment to eliminate early and forced marriages by 2030, and providing stipends for girls’ secondary school, the attainment gap between girls and boys persists. Although girls and boys are now equally likely to enroll in secondary school, girls drop out by grade 11 (age 16) at five times the rate of boys.
This shows that there is more to this issue than finances. The findings indicate that while education is necessary, it alone will not be sufficient to create the desired impact of eliminating child marriages for girls in South Asia. The problems are deeper, rooted in the culture of our society that needs to change. Cultural issues that reinforce the practice must be addressed as well.
Girls’ education is believed to be the best intervention to reducing child marriages globally. It starts with the decision makers for girls, such as parents, community leaders and educators. It is our duty to challenge societal norms that disadvantage our girls to such an extent. It is crucial we start having conversations around changing our mindset when it comes to what best serves our daughters, and in turn future generations to come.
About the Author:
Tasnim Rahman is doing her M.Ed in Educational Leadership and Policy at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on educational equity issues faced by minorities in Toronto and Bangladesh.