At least 13,886 child marriages took place in 21 districts during the months of the lockdown last year, a study by Manusher Jonno Foundation has found.
The loss of earning and other difficulties amid the coronavirus restrictions were the key reasons behind the early marriage, it found.
The study titled “Rapid Analysis of Child Marriage Situation during Covid-19” includes a survey among 20,575 respondents, 63 focus group discussions, and 105 key informant interviews conducted in November, 2020, in 84 upazilas of the 21 districts.
Experts said the survey offered a partial view of the reality and the situation across the country could be even worse.
Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) is expected to officially unveil the findings today. MJF conducted the survey with support from Plan International Bangladesh.
“The number of child marriage has increased across the world during the pandemic. In Bangladesh, since we found such large numbers in the specific study areas, we fear that many more child marriages have taken place across the country,” MJF Executive Director Shaheen Anam told The Daily Star.
A national-level survey by the government might be able to depict a more accurate picture, she added.
Uncertainty over the future and loss of employment and earning opportunities were cited the most as the reason behind child marriages, she said.
“Child marriage has long term consequences like dropout from schools and unwanted pregnancies. The government has to seriously think how it can provide support to the girls who got married during the pandemic.”
Senior Programme Manager Shaikh Giasuddin Ahmed of MJF said in almost 78 percent of the instances of child marriage, the people involved said they were aware that child marriage was illegal and they knew the legal age for marriage.
Of them, about 96 percent said they didn’t support child marriage, he added.
In 78 percent of the incidents, it was a parent who took the initiative of child marriage.
At least 4,866 child marriages were recorded by marriage registrars, according to the data.
Survey data reveals that 30 percent of the respondents mentioned that increased poverty and not being able to arrange basic necessities for family members during the pandemic led to the early marriages.
“Marrying off daughters means there is one less mouth to feed during the economic crisis. The family members’ job or business loss due to Covid-19 was a very important factor mentioned by the survey respondents,” said Giasuddin.
“Another important reason was the closure of educational institutions which resulted in girls being stuck at home and mostly idle,” he added.
Apart from the survey respondents, the study collected data from focus group discussions participated by 178 married and 198 unmarried girls and 202 parents. The 105 key informants included local government representatives, upazila nirbahi officers, officials from the Department of Women Affairs, marriage registrars, village elders, teachers, and police.
Some of the key informants said dowry was a reality for many people and the parents married off their girls during the pandemic in the hope of paying less.
Giasuddin said the survey was conducted mostly among the beneficiaries of MJF’s partner organisations in every region of the country.
Respondents of the survey included 8,338 unmarried girls aged 10-19; 8,318 parents who have at least one daughter aged 10-19; and over 3,900 girls who had been married before the age of 18.
All the questions and discussions with the respondents were based on their experiences between April and October, 2020, he added.
Plan International Bangladesh Country Director Orla Murphy said, “We are only beginning to realise some of the consequences of Covid-19, particularly for women and girls. This is just a partial view the actual scenario of child marriage and the increasing rate will have significant negative impacts on the future of children.”