Among married adolescent females aged 15-19 in Bangladesh, 42.8% have experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives, with 28.4% reporting such violence within the past 12 months, experts said citing various surveys at an event today.
A lack of information and services is leading adolescents to become teen parents, experience sexual harassment, and develop pornography addiction, they mentioned at the 8th SRHR Knowledge Fair 2023, held in Dhaka today.
Adolescents need to be informed about their rights, and offered friendly health services and digital content tailored to them, they further said at the event organised by Share-Net Bangladesh, together with Aspire to Innovate (a2i), supported by UNDP.
Halida Hanum, senior associate, Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health, said unmet need for family planning is high among girls between 15-19 years.
"This causes a sizable dropout rate of about 18% at the primary level, which increases to 50% at the secondary level," she added.
Mothers under 18 face twice the risk of complications, with 23% of women aged 15-19 already having begun childbearing in Bangladesh, Halida Hanum further said.
Sayed Saikh Imtiaz, professor, Department of Women & Gender Studies, University of Dhaka, said, "Our study revealed that 61.65% of boys under 18 view child pornography. Additionally, 56.65% believe that men should have the final say in family decisions, 57.45% have contemplated using force to meet their sexual demands, and 66.2% agree that women should not frequently leave their homes."
For many male adolescents, pornography is the only source of knowledge about reproductive health, said the professor.
"As a result, the rate of violence against women and rape is increasing in the society. Our boys and girls are very smart now. Like them, their friendly entertainment should be taken to their doorstep. They are social media dependent so new media content needs to be created for them," he stressed.
Former culture minister Asaduzzaman Noor said, "Boys and girls should be educated together from childhood. Otherwise, going to college and studying together, boys see women as sex objects and not as people."
Teachers should incorporate contents specified for adolescents into textbooks, and there should be the development of dramas and cinemas tailored for the age group, Asaduzzaman Noor suggested.
Before their first period, many girls don't receive enough information on puberty, and some don't know what to expect when they start menstruating, said Tasnia Ahmed, program manager, SERAC Bangladesh.
"Furthermore, many girls lack access to or are unable to afford adequate and efficient sanitary protection. This causes monthly school absenteeism," she said.
Those who are tasked with providing services to adolescents are not trained in gender orientation, she said. "Therefore young people are not able to freely share their problems and not find solutions."
"Direct exposure to gender-based violence at school can take the form of forced sexual actions in return for excellent marks, sexual harassment, sexualised bullying and harassment on the way to school," Tasnia Ahmed mentioned.
Schools should be safe havens for girls, discouraging early marriage and pregnancy, and protecting them from sexual harassment, while ensuring they feel welcome to return even after getting married, she added.
There is a lack of educational online content for adolescents about reproduction, while the prevalence of pornography contributes to normalising violence against women, said Syed Nuruddin Shakhawat, CSE advisor, Plan International.
Around 30,000 porn sites have been blocked in Bangladesh, which are now replaced by more aggressive local illegal sites that contain contents dehumanising women, said Sirajul Hossain, managing director and CEO, Cybernetic Systems.