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Church tackles female poverty and child marriages with education boost

Posted on: August 4, 2016 8:42 AM
Bishop Samuel Mankhin (centre) with staff and residents at the Diocese of Kushtia’s hostel for female students in Meherpur at the start of the new academic year.
Photo Credit: Diocese of Kushtia

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The Church of Bangladesh is helping women out of poverty, in an area where child marriage was rife, by providing accommodation for female students. The Diocese of Kushtia has two women college hostels – one in Rajshahi and the other in Meherpur – providing accommodation for some 21 students, aged between 17 and 19. The students are mainly from districts within the Bollovpur deanery, where very few girls previously received a good education.

The Bishop of Kushtia, Samuel Mankhin, told ACNS that the percentage of women who received education in the districts of Meherpur and Chuadanga were very low in comparison to the rest of the country.

“Most of the women just completed primary education and got early marriage,” he said. “Very few are higher educated. Both Muslims and Christian parents just ignored girls’ education even a few years ago, but things have been changing.

He said that as the situation improved, the diocese had “taken this opportunity to encourage the parents to send the girls for higher education.”

The students attend the Women’s Degree College in Meherpur, where they are studying arts, commerce and science.

“All of them are from villages where there is no college nearby,” Bishop Samuel said. “There are a few colleges but [they are a] bit far away which is sometimes risky for them in travelling.

“In the hostel they are having all the facilities: they can have their meal together, they can have morning and evening prayer, they can go together to the college, they have library facilities provided by the hostel, they can have recreation, sometimes they can watch the television.”

The hostels also provide security and are overseen by a superintendent and a matron.

The Meherpur district once had the highest rate of child marriage across Bangladesh – with a rate of 64 per cent. But the area declared itself to be “child marriage free” earlier this year when some 15,000 people attended a meeting and made a pledge against it.

Cabinet Secretary Mohammed Shafiul Alam told them that the area – the site of the declaration of independence for Bangladesh – had “witnessed another historical milestone when we declared the district as child marriage free. But it’s not the end rather just the beginning of protecting the children from child marriage.”

Save the Children’s deputy country director for Bangladesh, Tim Whyte, was at the gathering. He said: “If we want to save our children we need to protect them from child marriage and stand by them to help building their lives. Today’s healthy child tomorrow’s better Bangladesh.”

The Church of Bangladesh is a united church. It is a member of the World Communion of Reformed Churches in addition to being a Province of the Anglican Communion.