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Too young to bear children

Nov 07, 2012

In Bangladesh, two-thirds of girls are married before they’re 18, many before they’re even 16, with the expectation that they’ll deliver children as soon as they begin menstruating.

She’s just 18 years old, but already Rani has been married for 7 years and had her first child. Rani was wed at age 11, but her ID card was doctored to say she was 18 – a common way to bypass the law in Bangladesh.

Rani and her husband started trying for a baby immediately, but it took 7 years for her to fall pregnant. Due to birth complications, Rani passed out for 2 days and had to undergo blood transfusions due to massive blood loss during delivery. Now 4 months later at her home in Nilphamari, she has still not fully recovered, citing dizzy spells, general weakness and swollen feet as her main symptoms.

“I felt very stressed. I had been trying for a baby for 7 years. So this time when I was expecting, I felt worried for the baby. I had so many expectations to meet but I am only 18,” she said.

Tip of the iceberg

While Rani’s story is shocking in itself, it’s just one among many in Bangladesh, where two-thirds of girls are married before they’re 18, many before they’re even 16, with the expectation that they’ll deliver children as soon as they begin menstruating.

Many families fail to realise that child marriage and adolescent motherhood usually lead to poverty. With education, girls can achieve so much more and support their families better. In addition, childbearing at such a young age poses many health risks to the girls and places an extra economic burden on the family.

In a bid to stamp out child marriage, the Birth Registration Act was introduced in 2004. The Act stipulates that anyone born in Bangladesh is required to obtain a birth certificate.

But the effectiveness of this scheme is debatable as it is not unusual for families to amend the age on their daughter’s birth certificates to make them eligible for marriage, meaning the rules need to be toughened up and more effectively enforced.

Early pregnancy complications

Early pregnancy takes a toll on girls’ bodies, presenting them with a host of health problems, like uterus prolapse, fistulas, lethargy, loss of appetite and abdominal pains.

Plan Bangladesh aims to bring an end to child marriage, working with the government and UNICEF towards 100% birth registration and enforcement of regulations, while empowering children and their families to raise awareness of the harm that child marriage and adolescent motherhood can have on a girl’s life.

Through Because I am a Girl campaign, Plan prioritises girls’ education with the aim of more girls staying in school longer, marrying later and earning wages that are better.

SOURCE: Plan International

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