Preventing early marriage in poor urban settlements in Bangladesh

Project Duration: Oct 2015-Oct 2018

Donor: IDRC, Canada

Partners: Bangladesh Legal Aid Services and Trust (BLAST), Brac Adolescent Development Program (ADP), MEJNIN Project

Overview: The effectiveness of current interventions is limited by the lack of knowledge about the nature of child marriage in the context of urban slums. After extensive discussions with key stakeholders who are active in child marriage prevention programming, we have identified a range of issues and puzzles that prevent these organizations from providing more effective, accessible, and context-specific programming to address the structural issues (social, cultural, economic) that influence early/child marriage in urban slums. This study will use a sequential exploratory mixed methods design to explore the phenomenon of early and child marriage in two urban slums, one in Dhaka and one in Chittagong.
Objectives: A central objective of this project is to identify the specific realities of life in urban slums that lead families to choose early marriage for their daughters or lead adolescents to choose early marriage for themselves. How do the determinants of ECM change when you look through an urban lens? Does the urban slum environment offer greater opportunities to prevent ECM? How do some girls manage to stay unmarried into adulthood? The literature review showed there is a dearth of literature focusing on ECM in the urban context, especially in-depth qualitative studies. Most programme interventions were designed based on findings from quantitative studies in rural areas, but do they translate into change in behaviour for urban adolescents?
We will also investigate what circumstances allow some young women to stay unmarried into adulthood. We will then share this knowledge with stakeholders in both the government and NGO sector, and assist our partners to apply this knowledge to future programme planning. With more robust evidence on the nature of ECM in urban slums, our partners will be better equipped to design relevant interventions which address the hardships faced by unmarried and married adolescents, and to also address the structural issues of poverty and access to education, ultimately aiming to reduce the prevalence of child marriage in the country.


  • An expert consultation meeting was held at JPGSPH in November 2015. Development, public health, human rights and law experts and practitioners met to discuss the current situation, challenges and practices in Bangladesh surrounding consent and choice within the context of child, early and forced marriage. Experts voiced concerns over the diverse definitions describing what child, early and forced marriage constitutes and how to tackle social, cultural and economic factors that create barriers to ensuring women and girl’s right to equality, liberty and freedom of expression.
  • Presentation on ‘Emerging themes and insights on early marriage narratives in urban slums’ in Oct 2016 at a seminar on ‘Early marriage: Women’s life choices in Bangladesh’ co-hosted by JPGSPH and BRAC University
  • Participated in a panel discussion hosted by Share-net Bangladesh in Oct 2016 on ‘Current themes and campaigns in SRHR’
  • Training and Capacity building of Team members: All project activities have been used as learning and training opportunities to develop the capacity of research team members in practical research skills, analytical thinking, writing, field work planning and subject knowledge.

In summary, the research team have been involved in training in the following areas:

    • Comprehensive training in qualitative research methods via a Coursera course from the University of Amsterdam
    • Scientific writing: 2 early stage researchers are attending a 6-day course conducted by senior scientists at JPGSPH
    • Quantitative analysis: 1 week full-time course taught by faculty at the JPGSPH attended by 3 staff.
    • Mixed methods research: 2 week training course at Heidelberg University, attended by one junior member of the team and early stage researcher
    • Leadership & Programme Management: 1 week training workshop by MDF Asia held in Colombo, Srilanka, attended by a mid-level team member
    • A team member facilitated the JPGSPH flagship course on Men, masculinity and SRHR, held in Cox’s Bazar in Feb 2016