As the world celebrates the International Day of the Girl Child on 11 October, BRAC, Australia, and the UK reiterated their commitment to investing in girls’ empowerment and working with the Government of Bangladesh to end child marriage. This joint statement is released as part of the activities undertaken by the partners with the Government of Bangladesh.
In issuing the statement, BRAC’s Executive Director, Dr Muhammad Musa said, “Every day, BRAC helps girls in Bangladesh reach their full potential through a comprehensive approach which includes creating economic, health-related, educational and leadership opportunities. After over 40 years of experience in advancing women and girls’ rights, we are determined now more than ever, to ensure that no girl is born into a community where she isn’t given the chance to learn and become a leader.”
Jane Edmondson, Country Representative for the UK’s Department for International Development Bangladesh said: “Children need learning and play in a safe environment to reach their potential. Too many girls and boys still miss out. And for some girls, harmful practices in society such as child and forced marriage and domestic violence make it doubly hard. Girls are less likely to finish school and less likely to find work. Changing all this is essential to reducing poverty in Bangladesh and to achieving sustainable economic growth”.
“Helping young women and girls to reach their full potential is critical to Bangladesh achieving its economic and social goals”, added Australian High Commissioner, Julia Niblett. “This is why Australia, together with the UK, is proud to support BRAC’s efforts to empower girls, supporting them to achieve their full potential”.
With the support of Australia and the UK, BRAC’s social and economic development programmes empower adolescent girls through the largest network of adolescent development clubs in Bangladesh. Girls who have been members of these clubs are more likely to be involved in income-generating activities and avoid early marriages, than girls who did not join the clubs.
In Bangladesh, considerable progress has been made in improving the lives of adolescent girls over the last 15 years. More girls than ever are enrolling in schools and access to health care has improved. But while 69 per cent of girls enrol in secondary education, almost one in two drop-out before completing their schooling. This is linked to the continued prevalence of child marriage. Though the proportion of girls marrying in their teens has been declining for 10 years or so, the country still suffers from one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world with over half of women currently between the age of 20-24 having married before their 18th birthday; and almost one in five having married before their 15th birthday.
Coordinated and focussed efforts are being taken from both the government and civil society groups to fight what has been termed as one of the most critical barriers to large scale development efforts. The government’s present commitment to reform the 1929 Child Marriage Restraint Act and set the minimum age of marriage at 18 is an important development in line with other international and national laws and policies protecting the rights of children. Similarly, the initiation of drafting a National Plan of Action to End Child Marriage demonstrates that along with its neighbours with similar socio-cultural contexts, such as Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, Bangladesh too is moving ahead on its child rights and gender equality agenda.
Australia, BRAC and the UK are focussed on continuing their work together to address these issues through effective programmes and also developing new programmes that address emerging social problems related to child marriage.
Adolescent girls are one of the most powerful agents for change in the world. Educated adolescent girls are able to fight child marriage, protect themselves from teenage pregnancy and build healthier futures for themselves.