Radha's parents arranged her marriage in 2009 when she was only 14. Her parents, who live in a poor village in Dinajpur district, thought this was the only way to secure their young daughter's future.
But Radha knew what her parents did not, that an early marriage could expose her to physical and sexual violence, premature pregnancy and even death during childbirth.
She escaped the marriage, and now after ten years, she is about to complete her Bachelor of Arts degree. She is also an advocate for stopping child marriage in her locality.
But not everyone is as lucky as Radha; poverty, natural disasters, lack of access to education, social pressure, harassment, intimidation, coercion, and dowry are catalysts for child marriages in Bangladesh.
As reported by Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), in 2017 more than 50% of the girls in the country were married off by the time they turned eighteen. However, their survey which was carried out in 19 districts, also revealed that the rate of child marriage has been gradually reducing over the years.
Child marriage has always been a pressing issue for the government, and it has taken a stand to end the dreadful practice that ultimately hinders growth and the empowerment of women. The government has decided to put an end to child marriage by the year 2041, and has continued to develop measures such as introducing a toll-free helpline – 1098 – so that anyone can report child marriage, abuse and violence.
Education is strongly correlated to child marriage, because, when an underage girl gets married, she usually drops out of school or college and does not continue with her studies. UN data supports the fact that women who complete secondary or higher level tend to marry almost five years later than those who do not have those qualifications.
Each year, more girls enrol in schools around the country, but at the same time, the dropout rate for girls is also higher than that of boys, mainly due to child marriage.
However, girls also perform better than boys in the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) and Higher Secondary School Certificate (HSC) examinations. This year, more than half of the total GPA-5 holders were girls.
Girls also were ahead of boys in the HSC results (76.44 per cent passed, while that for boys was 71.67 per cent). There were similar patterns in last year's board certified examinations.
These results however do not conceal the fact that almost 40 percent of girls in Bangladesh drop out of school and only 21 percent of girls in the urban areas use sanitary napkins or pads during menstruation (Bangladesh National Hygiene Baseline Survey, 2014).
Poor adolescent nutrition is another major factor for our girls' lagging performance. Bangladesh Nutrition Profile, USAID, stated that one-third of girls under the age group of 15-19 years are underweight.
The situation is particularly bad when a young girl who is physically and mentally not prepared for childbirth, is forced to go through with it. Adolescent pregnancy triggers increased risk of stillbirths and neonatal deaths. A staggering 84% of adolescent brides in Bangladesh give birth before reaching adulthood (Global Childhood Report, 2019).
Looking back at data, the overall situation for girls has improved in Bangladesh on a small scale, but malnutrition, early marriage, poor menstruation management and other underlying issues are still pulling our girls back from attaining a brighter future.
To establish stronger rights for women, to have a higher number of skilled workers in the labour force, to ensure a stronger platform for gender equality, we must provide a healthy environment where our girls can become indomitable, unscripted and unstoppable human beings.