If any discourse focuses on a comprehensive plan and investment, the first thing to come to mind is a business venture. But planning with and investment in human resources is a proposition aimed at reaping greater dividends. Child rights activists from Nepal, India and Bangladesh at a meeting in the city on Saturday (August 13) concluded that to find an effective weapon against child marriage, multi-sectorial strategies and approaches have to be adopted. They made it a point to find out the root causes of child marriage before framing the strategies. The Care International should by now have identified most of the causes responsible for this social bane because it has completed an integrated research on child marriage situation in Bangladesh and Nepal - countries where rates of child marriage are among the highest in the world.
Elaborate results of the research are not available yet. People in both Nepal and Bangladesh will be expecting that the research gets at the root of the problem. Apparently, poverty and lack of education figure prominently in influencing the decision of parents in favour of marriage of their underage girls in particular. In rare cases now teenage boys are also compelled to marry mostly for superstition, wealth or property or some unscientific beliefs. It is primarily a girl-centric problem and therefore has to be dispassionately analysed from the point of gender discrimination. Their vulnerability can be overcome only by educating them. On this front, the government steps taken so far have been quite positive enough. The various incentives given in order to bring girl students to school have already started yielding positive results. But more needs to be done particularly in retaining girl students in educational institutions for completion of their studies up to a competitively productive level.
The idea is to empower them to the point of self-reliance. If the proposed free education up to degree level can be implemented, there will be a discernible change not only in the country's child marriage situation but also in areas like oppression and violence against women. So investment in education with emphasis on girls' education matters. But without linking the investment with health - including sexual and reproductive health, future employment for girls and women, society is not expected to get its full benefit.
This brings the issue to methodical investment in education and health. Formulation of a strategy thus becomes most essential. Local campaigners against child marriage have shown how education can change the social scenario. Sure enough, such campaigns have been effective in stalling child marriages but unless they can offer a viable alternative to the families involved, the campaign cannot be sustained. It is exactly where official intervention has been warranted. But if financial and material support comes for girl students in poor families through official channels, large investments are required. Resource allocation for this purpose is, however, expected to derive double benefit. Not only will today's girls be good mothers but they will also know how to bring up their children healthy and educated in turn