Every year, millions of girls are forced into early child marriage – some even as young as 9 years old. Today, Bangladesh has one of the world’s highest rates of child marriage by the age of 18.
Child, early, and forced marriage is strongly linked to development and human rights. The effects on a girl’s life, education, health, and long-term prospects are devastating.
This is why Canada supports the work of Plan Bangladesh International and has made it a priority to promote the human rights of women and children around the world.
At a recent seminar entitled “Stop Child Marriage in Bangladesh: The Way Forward,” High Commissioner of Canada, Heather Cruden, invited everyone to join hands and speak with one voice against all forms of child violence, exploitation and abuse, including child, early, and forced marriages.
“I want to emphasize how supporting girls and their human rights is critical in building robust communities. For example, when a girl is educated, she has better economic prospects, is more likely to have healthier children, and more likely to send her own children to school.”
-Heather Cruden, High Commissioner of Canada
The event also highlighted the extraordinary courage and commitment of five youth advocates.
The UN’s Youth Courage Award for Education was awarded to Keshob Roy for his leadership role in preventing child marriage in his community. Four other youth advocates were also awarded crests for their role and efforts in preventing child marriage in their respective communities.
While 158 countries have set the legal age of marriage at 18 years, in many countries including Bangladesh, these laws are rarely enforced as the practice of marrying young children is maintained by tradition and social norms.
Child, early, and forced marriage violates millions of children’s rights, disrupts their education, blocks their opportunity to gain vocational and life skills and increases their risk of sexual violence, as well as their chances of contracting HIV.
It exposes girls to the risks of child-bearing at an early age, which can limit their ability to participate in economic and social spheres as well as increasing maternal death and disability, and increasing the risks of child and maternal under nutrition.
According to UNICEF, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death for girls aged 15 -19 years in developing countries.
As part of a larger focus on education and health, Canada has supported programs that reach out to at-risk youths in Bangladesh.
The Life Skills and Education for Adolescent Development program, which concluded in 2011, founded thousands of youth clubs and sought to raise awareness with parents on a variety of issues, including the risks of early marriage. Likewise, Plan Bangladesh’s Adolescents Reproductive Health Project helped spread information on the issue by providing life skills training for 217,100 youth, 60% of whom were girls.
Such initiatives ensure access to knowledge and educational services that equip youth with better decision making skills, which can help to prevent early forced marriage.
Today, Canada continues to support Plan Bangladesh as they raise awareness and discuss the disadvantages of early marriage and the risks associated with early or underage pregnancies.
“How can anyone defend the practice of having a nine year old girl forced into marriage?” – John Baird, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs
The Government of Canada is proud to support Bangladesh in its remarkable achievements over more than four decades since its liberation. Canada has provided over $4 billion as development aid to Bangladesh in the last 40 years.