Preventing Child Marriage in Bangladesh – There’s an App for That

A Bengali Child Bride

DHAKA – Child marriage is defined as “a formal marriage or informal union before age 18.” Child marriage is widespread in poverty-stricken populations, especially those countries located within the 10/40 window across Africa and South Asia.

According to UNICEF, “Worldwide, more than 650 million women alive today were married as children. An estimated 12 million girls under 18 are married each year. Girls who marry before they turn 18 are less likely to remain in school and more likely to experience domestic violence. Young teenage girls are more likely to die due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth than women in their 20s; their infants are more likely to be stillborn or die in the first month of life . . . If a mother is under the age of 18, her infant’s risk of dying in its first year of life is 60 per cent greater than that of an infant born to a mother older than 19.

A brief on child marriage by the Director of the Bangladesh Bureau of Manpower, Employment, and Training, indicated that:

  • 66 percent of girls in the country are married before the age of 18.
  • 29 percent are married before the age of 15.
  • Two percent are married before the age of 11.

Among the many unintended consequences of the cultural and economic pressures that stimulate parents to enter their adolescent daughters into unlawful and unhealthy marriages, the BMET noted that girls in early marriages suffer from a plethora of physical and psychological problems.

According to Plan International’s Deputy Country Director in Bangladesh, “If a girl is married before 18, she is more likely to drop out of school, become a child mother, die during pregnancy or childbirth, and be trapped in a lifetime of poverty. She is also more likely to face domestic and sexual violence. The practice limits her potential and robs her of her rights to safety, health and education.

Recognizing that child marriage is a difficult problem to tackle because it is do deeply rooted in society, Plan International has been cooperating with the Bangladesh government to attempt to significantly reduced the actual marriages conducted by “connecting” with marriage registrars, matchmakers, and marriage officiants via a mobile app.

Desperate parents have been known to circumvent the law by successfully forging birth, education, and other identification documents to have their daughters legally married. The app accesses a government database replete with child identification documents. Based on the information in those databases, the individual is either warned not to proceed or is given a green light to proceed. The app has been in the field in beta testing for six months. The government is proceeding to roll the app out across the entire country, claiming that, during the six-month trial, more than 3,700 child marriages have been prevented.

Their shared confidence in the effectiveness of the app is that it is far easy to convince some 100,000 registrars, matchmakers, and officiants that they can play a key role in preventing a problem that, until now, has otherwise been unstoppable.


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