The UN population agency, UNFPA, says it conducted the first of its kind study in association with the Dhaka University’s population sciences department to know the causes and consequences of child marriage in Bangladesh.
The findings were disseminated on Monday at the Dhaka University.
Bangladesh is criticised for the highest prevalence of child marriage in the world. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the London girls’ summit in 2014 pledged to eliminate this menace by 2040.
However, the latest Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey (BDHS) found that the rate of girls’ marriage before the legal age of 18 declined to 59 percent in 2014 from 65 percent in 2011, the “biggest” drop in recent decades.
In this period, the BDHS also found that, the percentage of females who had completed secondary school or higher education jumped to 25 percent from the 18.
The UNFPA study, conducted in 14 districts, provided evidence of the importance of education in preventing child marriage.
In households where fathers had higher secondary and above education, the rate of child marriage nearly halved.
In households where mothers had education beyond secondary the results were even more astounding. “Rates of child marriage were more than two thirds lower.”
The educational levels of the girls and women at the time of first marriage had an “equally dramatic effect”, the UN agency said.
Girls who receive no education are more than three times more likely to become victims of child marriage, according to the study.
Child marriage has a negative effect on girls’ educational attainment. Girls married before 18 are one and half times more likely to drop out of education than women who get married as adults.
Child marriage, moreover, has detrimental health effects.
Findings show that the under-five child mortality rates are 1.8 times higher when children are born from a mother who fell pregnant before the age of 18, than for adult marriages.
Officer in Charge of UNFPA Iori Kato appealed to policy- and decision-makers in Bangladesh to take steps to end child marriage.
“I do not want Bangladesh to be referred to as the worst country in Asia-Pacific in terms of child marriage anymore,” he said.
“I would like Bangladesh to be remembered as the country which has done the best efforts in this world to put an end to child marriage.”
He urged to use the findings of this research “to plan better policies and programmes”.
Dhaka University Vice Chancellor Prof AAMS Arefin Siddique also acknowledged the role of education.
“The higher the education, the lower the rate of child marriage. This study confirms what has been my belief. Now we have the evidence,” he said.
The Department for International Development (DfID) under the Global Programme on Accelerating Action to End Child Marriage in Bangladesh funded the study.