Early marriage ruins lives of many girls
Fatema Sultana

At 15 Jolly was preparing for her SSC exams. She never sat for the tests. The teenager instead was married off to become a houswife. Although her parents boast of having a rich son-inlaw, they have never tried to know whether their daughter is at all happy with a husband double her age.

"I feel ashamed to say that I have never enjoyed sex with this man although we have already got a baby boy from the marriage. The physical relation is a torture for me," said Jolly, who still looks a quiet shy girl.

She said the matter is so personal that she could not share it with anybody else and she nurses a grievance against her husband for destroying her life.

Jolly said she had no idea about sex and reproductive health before their marriage and her 36-year-old husband, Jamil Ahmed, did never brief her about it. "In the early days of my marriager I showed little interest in sex. But when I caught up with the libido I was disappointed to find my husband unable to satisfy me," Jolly said.

Jolly continued: In our society girls are, in fact, helpless. They have nothing to do after marriage. A man kicks out his wife when he finds her unacceptable. But a girl cannot, no matter whether he is sexually fit or impotent.

Jolly's case is far from unique. There are many young Bangladeshi women like her who are simply accustomed to following orders and tolerating arbitrary treatment both in their father's house and that of their husbands.

According to a UNICEF report, Adolescent Girls in Bangladesh', Bangladesh is a country where many girls are married off before they experience their first menstruation. The boys also marry early. Poor families start thinking about the marriage of their boys as soon as they reach adolescence.

The Geometric and Health Survey 1996-97 showed that 5 percent of 10-14 age group and 48 percent of the 15-19 age group of people in Bangladesh are married. The rate is much higher than that of a survey on marriage conducted by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics in 1998.

The Bureau survey revealed that 2 percent of the 10-14 age group boys and girls and 27 percent of the 1519 age group boys and girls were already married till 1998. The marriage rates of boys and girls are 1 and 3 percent respectively.

The Geometric and Health Survey mentioned that girts in urban areas compared to rural areas and the girls who have secondary-level education compared to illiterate ones are married off at relatively higher age.

It also said the age gap between husbands and wives is 7-9 and sometimes 12-13 and this wide gap of age is traditionally considered necessary by guardians to keep women under control, ignoring the fact that it might cause misunderstanding in conjugal life.

The UNICEF survey highlighted that the unusual gap in the age of husband and wife may cause various troubles, ranging from sexual relation to reproductive health, in one's conjugal life. "Even it may cause maternal death," the study said. Another survey conducted during 1976-85 showed that the mortality rate of the 15-19 age group girls is higher than that of the 20-34 age group ones.

As per the country's existing law, girls under 18 while boys under 21 are not eligible to get married.

Talking about the law, Senior Advocate of the Bangladesh Supreme Court Hasan Ali said the law was enacted in 1929 to control early marriage but few people have respect for it. Half the country's total girls are married off well before 18 because they are treated as burden of the family in our male-dominated society, he said.

In most cases, Ali said, no legal action can be taken in such marriages because it's difficult to determine one's age to go for action, as birth registration system has not developed in our country yet.

The country has a birth registration law but it has become outdated as it was enacted in 1873. "To involve the village guards and midwives in the process of birth registration, the law urgently needs to be amended because birth registration can help control early marriage," All said.

In discussion with the News Network correspondent many experts, including teachers and human rights activists, said early marriage in Bangladesh cannot be controlled for various reasons. They said there is a provision in the existing law to take consent of the girl before her marriage but the guardians hardly feel the necessity to consult their daughter before settling her marriage. In over 50 percent cases, the brides have no idea with whom their marriages are settled by their parents and trying to know about it is still considered as the audacity of the girls, they said emphasising the importance of carrying out vigorous campaign against early marriage. Describing the adverse effects of early marriage, Dr Syema Ahmed, a Gynaecologist and Resident Surgeon of Suhrawardy Hospital, said when an adolescent girl is married off with a middle-aged man the immediate problem is misunderstanding.

In such unequal marriage, she said, the couple, particularly the girl, can never be sexually happy because of communication gap and other biological reasons. "A girl gets frustrated day by day when she continues to feel that she is not getting that much affection and passion what she expects from her husband. A relatively older man cares little about his wife's desire," said Dr Syema.

She said: A man needs to understand that to establish a healthy sexual relationship with his wife, a pre-sex understanding is essential, or else, she may feel it as torture. So relatively equal age of marriage is more helpful to live a happy conjugal life. Dr Syema said there are a section of perverted men in our society who think comparatively younger girls can give maximum sexual pleasure. "This is wrong. There is no credit to unilaterally enjoy sex depriving the wife. It must be bilateral to save the relation," she said.

Dr Jhunu Shamsun Nahar, Associate Professor and Psychiatrist at Bangabandhu Medical University Hospital, said that in an unequal age of marriage the girl is the worst sufferer. "Its adverse effects are both mental and physical.

A girl can develop a serious mental problem due to continued depression caused by her unhappy conjugal life.

Citing various case studies, Dr Nahar said most unequal age of marriages end up in divorce or separation and it's the girl who continues to suffer after the collapse of marriage, as the husband does not feel the necessity to bear her maintenance after divorce.

"Among the things needed to overcome the problem are economic emancipation of the women and change in the attitude of men towards women," she said.


Source: The New Nation, Dhaka, January 22,  2002


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