Child, Early and Forced Marriage: Experts Meet
On the 3rd of November 2015, development, public health, human rights and law experts and practitioners met to discuss the current situation, challenges and practices in Bangladesh surrounding consent and choice within the context of child, early and forced marriage. Experts voiced out concern over the need for unanimity when describing what child, early and forced marriage constitutes and how to tackle socio-cultural practices that create barriers. Extensive discussions took place around the legal definition of early, child and forced marriage and how the law can be better used to protect girl children. Several questions were raised including “is early marriage the same as child marriage?” and “are all early and child marriages forced?” and “what are the implication of early and forced marriage on the girl child health, particularly her reproductive health?” and “how young people perceive sexuality and/or sexual identity within the context of consent and choice in this discussion around marriage?” and “where is the space to further investigate this issue within non-Muslim and ethnic minorities?” and “why families use marriage to provide protection for daughters but physical, sexual and emotional violence within the realm of marriage is accepted and tolerated?”
During the course of the meeting representatives of Naripokkho and Population Council, BLAST, Ain O Salish Kendra and Bondhu presented findings from their respective projects, research and initiatives that pointed out practices of child, early and forced marriages cut across socio-economic divide, level of education, ethnicity, religion, gender but is more about a cultural belief that requires a change in mindset and behavior. The issue of consent was at the heart of the event both from a legal and socio-cultural perspective. In the midst of the current policy environment circulating the age of marriage, experts at the meet felt that this is an opportune moment to combine forces and embark on a united advocacy campaign to ensure the age of marriage remains at 18. This requires legal clarifications, strategic communication plan and strong advocacy activities. The discussions ended with the recognition that talks surrounding boys and men’s rights in forced marriages should also be addressed.
‘Whose Rights, What Choices?: Consultation on Child, Early and Forced Marriages’ meeting was organised as part of the project on ‘Recognising Consent and Choice’, RCC, a joint initiative of the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) and the Center for Gender and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights at the James P Grant, School of Public Health, BRAC University. This project is supported by RFSU, the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education. RCC aims to foster dialogue to enable clearer understanding of how women’s and adolescent women’s rights to consent and choice are secured, among practitioners delivering legal and health services aimed at ensuring their sexual and reproductive health.
The meeting that included experts from Plan International, Girls not Brides, Terre Des Hommes, UNICEF, UN Women, UNFPA, RHStep, IPA and BRAC Gender Team was co-facilitated by Barrister Sara Hossain and Professor Sabina F Rashid.
-Contributed by Neda Shakiba, JPGSPH, BRAC University