Child marriage practices among the Rohingya in Bangladesh

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Background: Previous research suggests that child marriage may be accelerated during times of crisis and insecurity as resources are scarce and child marriage may be a survival strategy for girls and their families. In 2017, the Rohingya experienced a mass displacement to Bangladesh in response to escalating violence in Myanmar. This displacement has resulted in an estimated population of nearly 1 million Rohingya living in Cox’s Bazar. Methods: We conducted in-depth interviews (n = 48) and focus group discussions (n = 12) with Rohingya male and female adolescents and young adults (14–24 years), and program managers and service providers (n = 24) working in Cox’s Bazar to understand their experience of living or working in the camps, preferences for timing of marriage, and marriage practices in Myanmar and in the camps. We also interviewed Bangladeshis in the host community to complement our understanding of marriage in the camps and its influence in the broader community. Our primary objective was to describe how displacement influenced marriage timing and practices. Results: We found that child marriage is a strong cultural phenomenon among the Rohingya, primarily rooted in socio-cultural and religious beliefs around readiness for marriage. Although child marriage was practiced by the Rohingya in Myanmar, specific state law and oppression by military forces prevented many from marrying before age 18. Now this preference is more easily practiced in the camps in Bangladesh where the displaced Rohingya experience less marriage regulation. Host community participants perceive the presence of the Rohingya as encouraging both polygamy and child marriage in their communities, leading to tension among the host community. Conclusions: Our findings support evidence that conflict and displacement increase child marriage in populations already vulnerable to child marriage by exacerbating gender inequities. However, our findings also suggest group norms around religious and cultural preferences for age at marriage play a significant role in post-displacement behaviors surrounding marriage.