Early marriage is a common practice in many under-developed and developing countries. In Bangladesh, early marriage has traditionally been practiced since a long time back and continues till present day. Different social, cultural, religious and economic factors often play key roles in this kind of practice. Although many development programs are trying to raise awareness about the harmful effects of early marriage, it is still considered normal among the masses.

This practice can have severe impact on adolescent girls’ physical and mental health and their later life. When a child girl is married off early, she usually has very little or no knowledge about sexual and reproductive health, practices and rights. In most cases, their husbands are disproportionately older than them, so they do not get any chance to make decisions regarding their sexual and reproductive practices of their own. As a result, they get pregnant at an immature age. Immature pregnancy poses risk for both the adolescent mother and her child’s life. In other words, increased fertility at an early age often leads to high rate of maternal and child mortality.

Girls who are married off early, cannot continue their education at school. They become busy with child- bearing and household responsibilities. In a leap from childhood, they become adults. For a developing country like Bangladesh this is a major socioeconomic drawback. International and National development programs are emphasizing on eradicating the practice of early marriage. Very few organizations, however, are concerned about those girls who have already been married off as a child. These victims of early marriage also need attention.

Initiatives for Married Adolescent Girls’ Empowerment (IMAGE) is a project that aims to address the problems of these early married girls. The goal of this project is to ensure a life with dignity for the early married girls by making them aware of their Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.

For assessing the needs, IMAGE had carried out a baseline survey before its official launch. According to the baseline survey, communities in northern districts of Bangladesh are very much prone to practicing child marriage. 99.7% adolescent girls in the target regions are currently married. Many of them got married when they were in their early teens. In 91.3% cases parents forced their daughters into marrying early.

Whereas, these girls should have enjoyed their youthful free life, they were deprived from that opportunity. They are now stuck with childbearing and taking care of their husband and in-laws. IMAGE wants to change this situation. The project has set a target- to reach out to 4500 early married girls in three selected upazilas of Gainbandha, Kurigram and Nilphamari districts. IMAGE field team will campaign at the root level to reduce vulnerabilities of these married girls as well as increase their access to Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) and Services. The team will also talk to the husbands, in laws and community people to recognize the SRH rights of the married adolescent girls. An estimated 90 local community leaders will be involved in creating supportive environment for these girls. Trainings will be provided to develop leadership skills of early married girls so that they become empowered change makers. At a larger level, civil society and media will be involved in support and advocacy for these married girls.

IMAGE was inaugurated in Dhaka, on June 23, 2015. The project is a joint initiative by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (EKN), Terre des Hommes Netherlands, Terre des Hommes Lausanne, SKS Foundation, Polli-Sree and RedOrange Media and Communications.

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