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AT first sight, one of the caregivers of Chhotomoni Nibash, Bina Akhter Hasi can be mistaken as another lost child being cared for at the centre for underprivileged and lost children at Lalbagh. Not even the salwar kamiz or the orna (scarf) she keeps on pulling over her head to perhaps hide her short hair and act mature can conceal her young age or slight feature.
Hasi says she was married four years ago when she was 14. At the age of 16, she became pregnant, but her husband, a gambler, hardly brought any food home. She said she had a number of complications during pregnancy. “My mother got me admitted at Mirpur maternity, where I had a caesarean,” she said, adding that she lost a lot of blood during child birth and was almost on the verge of death.
After childbirth Hasi left her husband’s house. A staff of the Chhotomoni Nibash gave him work there to look after the young children. She now stays with her seven-month-old son at the centre. “He often falls sick,” she complains picking up her son, with a swollen belly.
Hasi and her son is a classic case of inter generational malnutritional cycle which passes on the bane of under nourishment from one generation to another. Md Mohsin Ali, Nutrition Specialist of Unicef explained, “When an undernourished adolescent mother gives birth, the child too is likely to suffer from under nourishment.”
Early marriage of young girls is linked to the malnutritional cycle that afflicts the country. Mohsin said, “Early marriages of girls are mostly prevalent among poor families. Girls coming from such families are usually under nourished.”
Height of most under nourished adolescent girls coming from poor families is less than 145 cm, he said adding that short mothers face health complications during the birth process.
“Most of them also suffer from anemia as a result they cannot handle the loss of blood during delivery,” he said.
“Since the baby cannot achieve a certain weight in the womb, an under weight child is born. Later the child suffers from growth retardation,” Mohsin said adding that the chance of survival of the underweight babies is very low.
Early marriage thus increases the risk of both maternal and infant morality, he added.
Even if a under nourished child survives, Mohsin said that such a baby often falls sick, just like Hasi’s son, because immunity of the child remains low.
According to the Child Equity Atlas: Pockets of Social Deprivation released on 2013, a report jointly done by UNICEF, Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies and Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, child marriage is still a significant challenge for the country as almost one-third of females (aged 15-19 years) in the country are married in their teens, which is one of the highest rates in the world. The proportion of females aged 15-19 years who are married declined by five per cent in the last 10 years, from 37.5 per cent in 2001 to 32.5 per cent in 2011.
World Health Organization (2006) revealed that the risk of death following pregnancy is twice as high for women between 15 and 19 years than those between the ages 20 and 24years. The mortality rate can be up to five times higher for married girls aged between 10 and 14 than for women of at least 20 years.
However, in the activities and interventions proposed in Bangladesh government’s recent commitment to end preventable child death before 2035, no specific mention has been made to stop early marriage.
Nevertheless, awareness to stop early marriage is being created through a government project titled, ‘Empowering adolescent through organising them in adolescent clubs for bringing positive change within the community’ since July 2011.
Programme Director Zakia Yasmin Joarder, Deputy Director (Training) of the Department of Women’s affairs, said that through 379 adolescent clubs in the unions of seven districts of the country, a number of awareness building campaign is being conducted.
She said, members of the clubs young girls and boys between the age of 11 to 18 meet twice every week and take life skill training from their peer leaders, who have been trained by NGO workers.
“Among the life skill trainings, the evils of early marriage are taught to the club members,” she said adding that parents meeting is also conducted for the club members to create awareness against early marriage.
“The club members not only share this information with their peer groups in the community but there have been many instances when they stopped incidents of child marriage,” Zakia said.
Putting an end to early marriage can work as a catalyst to Bangladesh’s success in ensuring the most vulnerable of its resources by breaking the vicious cycle of malnutrition.