Marrying a minor girl off has to be made socially unacceptable so that guardians abstain from such a crime, speakers at a roundtable said on Thursday.
The roundtable titled ‘What needs to be done to eliminate child marriage’ was organised by Prothom Alo in association with UNICEF at the daily’s office in the city.
Addressing the roundtable, Nasima Begum, secretary to the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs, said there has been widespread misinterpretation of the Clause 19 of the Child Marriage Restraint Act.
She lamented that people are vilifying the government for the special provision in the act. She maintained there are many terms to be met before a minor is married off under that provision, which would make it a rarity. Nasima said that provision will only be used in the highest interests of the girl.
To this end, Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust honourary executive director Sarah Hossain said the law should clearly mention that the consent of the girl is a must in such a situation.
If a girl is forced to get married as a minor she should be able to call it void when she becomes a major, Sarah also suggested, referring to such a provision in the Muslim Marriage Law.
Neha Kapil, chief of Communication for Development at UNICEF, said a multisectoral response is a must to tackle child marriage.
The role of the parents is vital here and that is why they should be made aware that getting a child married is socially unacceptable.
UNICEF gender and development specialist Roshni Basu stressed the need for more investment to ensure girls get proper education. She also said there should be more efforts to eliminate gender discrimination.
Abul Hossain, project director of Multi-sectoral Programme on Violence against Women, said the media should do more to create awareness to this end.
Tania Haque, a faculty of Dhaka University’s women and gender studies department, urged the government to allocate more funds for research to this end. She also suggested incorporating lessons on human behaviour, attitude and manners in the syllabus.
Plan International Bangladesh deputy country director for programmes Soumya Guha said education has to be humane and practical to ensure the plans get properly implemented.
BRAC gender and diversity programme head Habibur Rahman said the home and education ministries should work with the women and children’s affairs ministry in tandem to help eliminate child marriage.
He also said there should be a clear definition of this ‘highest interest’ as mentioned in the special provision.
Humaira Farhanaz, national programme officer (gender, adolescent and youth) of UNFPA, said steps should be taken to help girls increase life skills, which will make them more confident.
Mentioning that there are many cases where guardians think girls are not safe at the schools or workplaces, she underscored the need for a campaign against sexual harassment.
Young girls should also have access to reproductive health services to handle the situation better, she observed.