Dr. Abu S Shonchoy
During the next 10 years, 14 million girls in different parts of the world are expected to experience child marriage – i.e. marriage before the age of 18 – each year. In developing countries, one in three women presently aged 20-24 were married or in a union before age 18 (UNFPA 2012).
In most countries, there are legal bans on marriage below a certain age. However, in poor countries, the laws are often ignored and rarely enforced. The enforcement problem is often exacerbated by the absence of a universal birth registration system which makes it difficult to verify the age of a potential bride in court, and the fact that marriages are contracted via customary rather than formal institutions.
Bangladesh is an example of a country where all of the patterns described above are common. It has one of the highest rates of female child marriages in the world (with two-thirds of women marrying before the age of 18), as well as high rates of female school drop-out and early pregnancy (NIPORT 2013).
Girls in Bangladesh, who are the victim of child marriage, face severe consequences. First, these girls become mothers at a very early stage of their lives, which is considered to be at especially high risk for maternal mortality and morbidity; roughly one-third of all deaths among females aged 15 –19 in Bangladesh are due to maternal causes. Early marriage poses significant health risks to young women and girls through multiple pathways: maternal complications or mortality due to childbearing that occurs before these girls have physically and mentally being matured. Moreover, most of these girls from poor households are malnourished (or undernourished) and being pregnant in such a physical condition creates the risk of premature birth and neonatal (or infant) death. Early childbearing in poor households also associated with further infant malnourishment, higher total fertility, which lead to a long-term poverty trap for these households. Other immediate consequences are the low education achievement by girls, which obstruct girls to participate in the labor market and future income opportunities. Moreover, lower education achievement is associated with lower positions in the household, lower bargaining power in the family-level decision making, lack of empowerment, and victim of domestic violence.
Considering the Child Marriage issue, MOMODa FOUNDATION improve an intervention "Enhancing the Enforcement of Child Marriage Laws through Improved Birth Registration, Surveillance and Reporting " to enhance the enforcement of child marriage laws in rural areas of Bangladesh by engaging primary school teachers to improve the system of birth registration, surveillance and reporting of potential cases of child marriage. We provide the details of the intervention below.
We primarily target to develop a database of unmarried adolescent girls between the ages of 14 to 17 through the community specific village based Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) with the presence of local government officials and influential persons from the community. Through this process, we also plan to identify families whose circumstances indicate a high risk of child marriage (such as extreme poverty). Based on this initial targeting, we will employ a Proxy Means Testing (PMT) method to identify potential extremely poor households for more precise targeting. For this purpose, we used the Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES 2010) to identify a set of proxy variables for household income and poverty status that can be measured and verified easily. Households classified as living in extreme poverty with one or more unmarried adolescent girls aged between 14 and 17 will be targeted for the intervention.
We aim to bring every girl child aged between 14 and 17 in our intervention area under the registration system. To expedite the process, we propose to utilize existing human resources - local primary school teachers (PST) (and, in particular, female teachers) - to help us achieve this registration target. With the aid of union digital centers (UDC), primary school teachers will help families complete birth registrations. For each registration, we will provide a reward of 50 takas to each PST to cover transportation and time costs.
We also propose to develop an online child marriage reporting system based on a (Android based) mobile phone app accessible to primary school teachers, namely an “Electronic Child Marriage Reporting System” or e-CMRS. This portal will be accessible via smart phones (and any other device which can access the World Wide Web).
After receiving appropriate training, each primary school teacher will be registered into the e-CMRS. Given the widespread use of mobile phones in Bangladesh, we assume that most PSTs will already have a device suitable for accessing the e-CMRS.