Climate Change Drives Child Marriage in Bangladesh

The rate of child marriage in coastal areas is double compared to other parts of the country. Parents claim that, during the course of climate changes the recurrence of natural disaster, loss of crops and poor financial condition compels them to marry off their children early. During his expedition to the remote coastal areas of Bhola, Saurav Rahman has made two episodes of reports on this. Visuals has been taken by Jahirul Huda. Sharif para Primary School. The only place for education in this coastal village, Char Patila. In this school there is an average of 50 students in class three. But the number falls down to 30 in class four. Among the drop out students, the boys get engaged with works for living. And the girls become victims to child marriage. As were stated by some girls of class five. The reporter: “Do you have any friend who has already been married?” Student: Yes My friend Sonia is married, I heard. She doesn’t come to school. I have a friend named Rojina. She stoped coming to school as she has been married. We heard that later. The Headmaster was showing us, opening the attendance register of class five, how alarming the situation is. Abul Kashem, Head Master, Sharifpara Primary School: Here child marriage is taking place in 80% cases in my school. Last year, I had 11 girls. Only 4 of them have been admitted to class 6. The rest has been married off. We found the name of Sazeda in that attendance register of class 5. Even seven months back, she was in class 5. But now her destination is in law’s house. Mst. Sazeda, Char Patila:
I asked my parents, why are you marrying me off? I want to continue my education. Then father said, I cannot bear your cost anymore. So, why I will keep you in my house? Lucky Akhter also read in that school. Now she is maintaining a family of seven members. She has a one and half year old child. Another is growing up into her womb. But, Lucky herself is still below 16. The memory of that day hurts her a lot, when she came to her husband’s house 3 years back. Lucky Akhter, Char Patila: I wanted not to get married. But they married me off forcefully. What I could have done? I had to listen to them. Nuru Molla, Lucky’s father, was also present there. He pressed her daughter for marriage. Nuru Molla, Day laborer, Char Patila: I had to marry her off. I have no money, no land. River Erosion taken away everything I had. Then I thought what I will do to these kids, where shall I go with them now. That’s why I sent her away. Nuru Molla is poor, so his village Char Patila is. The offshore island is situated on the estuary of the Meghna and Tetulia, 130 km away from Bhola, a southern district of the country. 400 families are living here. All are victims of river erosion and came here for shelter. But they could not escape the natural disasters; water flows in because of storm and flood. Sinking of lands and residence is natural phenomenon here. During last 3 days, I have talked to 40 families of these Islands in the Bay of Bengal. All of them are marring their girls off with the anxiety of consequences of surge and river erosion. Bashir Uddin, Fisherman: We are not capable of protecting our girls, when the river erosion takes places. We do not have any other option but to marry her off. Salma Begum, Housewife: The scope of income is very limited here. We cannot afford their education and reach them to appropriate age of marriage Habib Darbesh, Farmer: Here the girls are bound to stop their education up to class 5. After that they become the burdens for their families. So we had to marry them off. Over 60 percent of the residents here are ultra-poor. The main source of earning is fishing in the river or in the sea. Some people are also engaged in agricultural works by taking lease. But the income remains very limited. Monir Ahmed, Director, Unnayan Dhara Trust: Their income is being eroded because of climate change. The level of river is increasing because of increase of sea level. When these water flows over the land, then crop cultivation gets hampered because of this salinity. As the salinity of water is increasing, the availability of fishes in the rivers is decreasing. This is why; the small fishermen are not getting much fishes like Hilsha or other sea-fish. As a result, we are witnessing financial distress among them. For this financial distress, their daughters are seemed to be burden to them. As per statistics of United Nations Agency Unicef, the rate of child marriage in the country is 52%. But as per statistics local private agencies and Unior Parishad, the rate of child marriage in Char patila is 90%. Monowar Hossain, Upazilla Executive Officer, Char Fashion: Our responsibility is to make them understand, making them aware. If we don’t get the desired result by making them understand, we enforce the law. But we are facing legal complication in this regard. The previous law has already been abolished and this law has not yet introduced under mobile court law. But only enforcing law and creating awareness will not go a long away. Practical experience in this area is proclaiming that, economic freedom is a far cry to combat child marriage in this area. SAURAV RAHMAN, Maasranga Television, Char Patila, Bhola

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