Political commitment can end child marriages: Hasina

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has said a bold and secular political commitment is crucial in facing a socially sensitive challenge like child marriage.

Reazul Bashar from Londonbdnews24.com
Published : 22 July 2014, 06:11 PM
Updated : 22 July 2014, 06:26 PM

She also feels alleviation of poverty and increased education and employment can bring a ‘natural’ end to child marriage.

Speaking at the first Girl Summit in Walworth Academy in London on Tuesday, she said, “First of all I believe a bold and secular political commitment has been extremely important in tackling a socially sensitive challenge like child marriage.”

"Basically what I feel is that if poverty reduction, education and job opportunity ....if we can ensure these then naturally the child marriage will be reduced.

“This is our opinion and we've taken all these steps to ensure that our girls should be educated properly and then they should go for jobs so that they can take their own decisions," she said.
The UK hosted the one-day Girl Summit to make a call for ending female genital mutilation and forced marriage through internal and international dynamic action. The event is co-hosted by the Unicef.
Representatives from 55 nations joined the summit.
Hasina was the only head of the government invited to the event. British Prime Minister David Cameron, who is the main initiator of the summit, also attended.
Foreign Secretary M Shahidul Haque told reporters Cameron had praised Bangladesh’s achievements, especially in the MDGs, and the social movement led by the prime minister.
“This is why he invited the prime minister to the summit,” he said.
After several sessions were held at the summit, Hasina joined the high-level summit around 11:55am.
Television journalist Zeinab Badawi, who moderated the session, sat Hasina between Chantal Compaore, the first lady of Burkina Faso, and Pakistani rights activist Malala Yousafzai.
David Cameron joined the session afterwards.
Introducing Hasina, Badawi said the Bangladesh leader was among the foremost in the world working for women’s rights.
A question-answer round was held after short speeches from the participants. The prime minister spoke about her various initiatives and plans to prevent early marriage.
Hasina said her government planned to give women free education and aid up to graduation. Currently 133,000 female students were receiving this benefit from the prime minister’s fund.
She said the practice of child marriage had declined in the last two decades following different government initiatives.
The marriageable age for women is 18, but 20 years ago 52 percent of the nation’s women would be married within 15 years of age. At present this rate has declined to 17 percent.
The prime minister said her government had pushed through a national women’s development policy in 2011 despite resistance from Islamist parties like Jamaat-e-Islami.
The Child Marriage Act of 1929 is being amended and the first Children’s Act has been introduced to ensure the wellbeing of children.
"And yet having stringent laws and policies alone is not enough to prevent child marriage in poorer societies if it is not supported by investment in education and economic empowerment of adolescent girls," Hasina emphasised.
She said women in Bangladesh were getting free education up to college, girls up to secondary school were getting scholarships and cash stipends and all students were getting free books.
According to her, the Awami League government was also trying to create new employment opportunities for graduate women. At the nation’s primary schools, 60 percent of the teachers are young women, she said.
"In parallel, we have introduced employment opportunities for high-school girl graduates whereby 60 percent of our primary school teachers are now young girls giving them a livelihood choice other than marriage."
The prime minister also spoke about community programmes to prevent child marriage.
Bangladesh has made a pledge at the Girl Summit to eliminate child marriage in 2040.