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article imageBangladesh child marriage must stop: Human Rights Watch

By Karen Graham     Jun 9, 2015 in World
Human Rights Watch (HRW) is reporting that Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has not kept a pledge made last year to put an end to child marriages.
According to a HRW report released on Tuesday, child marriage has reached epidemic proportions in Bangladesh, where 30 percent of women are married by the age of 15.
HRW is also calling on the government to halt a proposal to lower the marriage age for women from 18 to 16 years of age, saying it undermines the prime minister's pledge to end child marriage. Bangladesh has the fourth highest rate of child marriages in the world, behind Niger, Central African Republic and Chad.
UNICEF, the United Nation's child agency says that in 2011, "of women aged between 20 and 24, 65% were married before the age of 18, and 29% before they turned 15," according to the Guardian.
The HRW 134-page report, entitled, "Marry Before Your House is Swept Away," tells a story of national successes on many fronts, including the reduction of its poverty level from 56.7 percent in 1991-1992 to 31.5 percent in 2010, gender parity in primary and secondary education and a reduction in the maternal mortality rate by a whopping 40 percent between 2001 and 2010.
Despite these advances, Bangladesh is still plagued by deep poverty, with the majority of its population crammed into a delta of rivers that flow into the Bay of Bengal. This low-lying country is prone to frequent flooding and natural disasters, making it especially vulnerable to rising ocean levels.
The HRW report cites several reasons behind the high rate of number of child marriages: Poverty, a lack of education and dowry payments. Usually, the dowry payment for a younger child is not as high as for an older young woman of 18 or so. And of course, environmental disasters are a driving force behind this as parents worry their child will not have a house to come home to after the next flood.
But child marriage also have its dark side. Girls as young as 10-years-old have been married off and ended up being raped and injured, or if they became pregnant, losing the baby and sometimes their lives in the process. There are also higher incidents of domestic and sexual abuse, the report found.
Reuters related the story of one young woman. Rashida, who was married at 10 or 11. She was quoted as saying, "He forcibly entered me and I would cry so much that everything would get wet from my tears. It was so difficult, so painful. The first time, the next day I couldn't even move."
"Child marriage is an epidemic in Bangladesh, and only worsens with natural disasters," said Heather Barr, an HRW researcher on women's rights. Barr adds, "The government should act before another generation of girls is lost."
NOTE: The video accompanying this story was produced by Human Rights Watch, and is well worth the 10 minutes it will take to watch it.
More about Bangladesh, Child marriage, Human rights watch, Natural disasters, forger birth certificates
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