17 NOVEMBER 2016
Progress in Bangladesh shows we can only eradicate child marriage if governments, communities and girls work together, writes Senait Gebregziabher, Regional Director for Plan International in Asia.
In Bangladesh, where I recently served as Country Director for Plan International, over half of girls will marry before 18. Worse still, 18% will marry by 15 although the minimum legal age for marriage is 18.
Despite increased investments and global awareness, we are still a long way from ending early marriage. I believe that true change must come from all levels. In addition to new legislation, a change in beliefs and understanding about girls’ rights are critical.
Working at multiple levels
I am proud of our efforts in Bangladesh to achieve this. In the last 3 years, Plan International has stopped 2,000 child marriages there. We have done this by:
Working with policy makers:
We have played a leading role in stopping Bangladesh’s government passing a law to lower the legal age of marriage for girls to 16. Though still under debate, the law has been stalled for over 2 years now.
Strengthening local government:
We have trained and worked alongside local governments to stop child marriages. As a result, a number of localities have declared themselves ‘child marriage free zones’. This is an extremely positive sign and is indicative of their commitment.
Giving young people a voice:
We have reached more than 700,000 young people in Bangladesh through our child marriage work. We encourage them to take action and report cases of early marriage. Through training on life skills, self-defence and information on child protection and gender equality, young people have formed grassroots coalitions against child marriage.
Involving men and boys:
Men and boys are becoming true community champions. Having received training, they raise awareness among their peers about the consequences of child marriage and are changing perceptions about when girls should marry.
Girls become a force for change
When I think of how far we’ve come to eradicate child marriage, I am hopeful. When I think of individuals like Radha, who escaped early marriage at 14 and has since become a child rights activist, I am ever-more confident that change can happen with girls at the centre.
Radha joined Plan International’s Wedding Busters group to stop child marriages in her community. Her efforts have prevented many underage marriages, and now she speaks about children and child marriage-related issues globally. She has become a champion for change and an inspiration for other girls. Radha is proof of what girls can do when given the chance to continue their education and play a leading role in society.
Ending child marriage for good
To continue our progress towards stopping child marriage, investment and commitment is required from teachers, parents, governments, health care providers and more.
Now more than ever, the dialogue is shifting we are no longer seeing girls as victims of child marriage, but as catalysts of global change. Let’s work together, rewrite the story and make child marriage history.