Preventing early marriage in urban poor settlements in Bangladesh
Child marriage among girls is most common in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, with Bangladesh having the highest rate of marriage involving girls under age 15. Sixty-four percent of Bangladeshi girls are married before the age of 18, with the median age for a first marriage at 16.4. Studies indicate lack of education and poverty as drivers for early marriage in urban Bangladesh. Uneducated adolescent girls are at higher risk of marrying five years earlier than those with secondary or higher education. Eighty-one percent of girls from households with the lowest income marry before age 18, as compared with 56 percent from households with the highest income.
In urban slums, where a large population of poor and uneducated adolescent girls resides, the issue of early marriage is more acute when compared with data for a similar age group from urban non-slum areas. Pervasive violence, extreme poverty and absence of basic services in urban slums contribute to early child marriage. Kidnapping, land grabbing, extortion, sexual harassment and assault, often committed by local residents, are all common. At the same time, the lack of formal institutions forces slum residents to depend on these same communities and their leaders for access to basic services and mediation of interpersonal conflicts. These conditions point to a link between development, governance, and accountability failures, and the phenomenon of early child marriage.
The Government of Bangladesh has identified preventing child marriage as a key priority in its public health and development agenda. At the 2014 Girl Summit in the United Kingdom, the prime minister of Bangladesh pledged to end all under-15 child marriages by 2021, and under-18 child marriages by 2041. This IDRC project supports research that helps design public policy interventions in urban Bangladesh to tackle this priority. In addition to informing policymakers based on evidence, the project will look for opportunities to scale up the proposed interventions by organizing common platforms for action for a range of governmental and non-governmental organizations.