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Parents warn against underage marriage

Marrying too young can have serious consequences

A tribal Catholic villager (left)  speaks to others to warn them against  marrying young A tribal Catholic villager (left) speaks to others to warn them against marrying young
  • Liton Leo Das, Rajshahi
  • Bangladesh
  • August 10, 2011
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Marrying too young is considered a major social problem in Bangladesh and is banned by law, yet it is still widespread in many poor communities and Christian communities in predominantly tribal areas are no exception.

There are many cases of underage couples eloping and getting married after lying about their real age.

The legal ages for marriage in Bangladesh for men and women are 21 and 18 respectively.

In 2009, the United Nations Children’s Fund, in its State of the World’s Children report, said at least 64 percent of Bangladeshi girls marry before they are 18.

According to experts, marrying early invariably leads to various social problems, which in certain extreme cases can prove fatal.

This has prompted some tribal Catholic parents from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Andharkota, in northwestern Rajshahi diocese to start a local campaign against underage marriage.

About 100 parents are visiting families to educate other parents and children, about the possible consequences of marrying too young. The campaign has been welcomed and is being supported by local Church officials.

Many of the 4,000 or so parishioners have very little education, are desperately poor, and are highly influenced by traditional customs.

However, while the older generations learn through experience, it’s the ignorance of the young that is keeping this social ill alive. Some of the consequences can be dire, starting with some desperately unhappy parents disowning their children.

Among young men, the shock comes when they find that they can’t support their young wives and children. This was the case for Tara Biswas, 20, a tribal Paharia youth who attempted suicide when the burden of family life became too much for him.

“I disobeyed my parents and got married without realizing what I was getting myself into. I have three kids and couldn’t afford to feed and clothe them. I became so desperate I drank poison to try and end my suffering,” he said.

As far as young women are concerned there are serious health risks, not just for them, but also for their children, according to one leading expert.

Doctor Fatema Khanam, a specialist in women’s and children’s health at Rajshahi Medical College Hospital says that marrying young results in higher mortality rates for girls and their children.

“As many as ninety percent of teenage mothers are at grave risk of death from pregnancy and child-birth complications and the same goes for the child,” added Khanam.

“From my experience, many children who have committed such mistakes have come from families who lack moral guidance and have poor social customs. We never allow such acts and if does happen we keep the couple separate and let them have a Church marriage when they reach the proper age,” Father Liton Costa, the assistant parish priest said.

“We want to protect our children, so we’re trying to make them realize why we have Church marriage rites and national marriage law,” one of the campaigning parents, Elias Biswas, 48, added.

END

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