In Bangladesh, 29% of girls are married by age 15 and 65% by age 18. Organizations work relentlessly to halt the scourge of child marriage and raise awareness among girls about their sexual and reproductive rights. This is the primary goal of two organizations funded by the Feminists in Action Project: “Breaking the Silence” and the “Welfare Association for Development Alternative.”
AN ADVERSE ENVIRONMENT FOR YOUNG GIRLS IN BANGLADESH
The rate of child marriage in Bangladesh is the highest in Southern Asia and the fourth highest in the world behind Niger, the Central African Republic, and Chad.
Despite being illegal since 1929 in Bangladesh, child marriage continues to be a widespread practice. Poverty is at the root of this issue, but it is also compounded by natural disasters and climate change. It should be noted that child marriage is too often the preferred “coping mechanism” for parents who cannot feed their children and choose to marry them off to secure their children’s livelihoods. Finally, other factors, like the lack of access to education, peer pressure, harassment, and the dowry system, add to the circumstances of vulnerable families.
Early marriage has devastating consequences for young girls, ranging from health concerns and an increased incidence of death from early pregnancy and childbirth to lower school performance, early drop-outs, a greater incidence of domestic violence, and an increased propensity to poverty. According to the 2007 Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey (BDHS), 35% of teenage girls married in rural areas and 40% married in urban areas have experienced at least one form of violence from their husbands or ex-husbands.
THE FIGHT AGAINST EARLY MARRIAGE
In response to the dangers of early marriage, “Breaking the Silence” and the “Welfare Association for Development Alternative” are dedicated to protecting and promoting the sexual rights of women and young girls and making them financially independent. These organizations are addressing three of the most pressing issues that affect the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young girls in Bangladesh: gender-based violence, child marriage, and teen pregnancy.
A GROWING DISCRIMINATION AMONG MARGINALIZED COMMUNITIES
Both organizations specifically target women, young girls, and children from the country’s traditionally marginalized communities, such as the Dalits (“Untouchables”) and other ethnic minorities. Their isolation from society causes these communities to have little to no access to health and social services, leading to higher child marriage rates and an inadequate response to gender-based violence and child abuse.
ABOUT RAISING AWARENESS OF SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH AND RIGHTS AMONG YOUNG GIRLS
“Breaking the Silence” initiated the “Health and Safety for Girls and Women project”, a project that the Feminists in Action consortium financially supports. This project consists of training workshops and group meetings to educate young girls and women on their sexual and reproductive rights in Sathkira (located in the southwest), one of the country’s most vulnerable districts regarding early marriage.
The “Welfare Association for Development Alternative” has developed a comprehensive project that aims to improve the knowledge and skills of marginalized girls on menstrual hygiene, modern and emergency contraceptives, HIV and STI testing, gynecology, and pregnancy counseling.
The fight against early marriage and for the rights of women and girls in Bangladesh is a long-term endeavor. Local feminist associations are taking on this task with courage and vigor in a challenging context. They are confident that they can help build a better future for each individual and the community as a whole.
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