Canada awards Bangladesh officials in the battle against Child, Early and Forced Marriage

Canadian High Commissioner Benoît-Pierre Laramée, Minister Tarana Halim, and UN Resident Coordinator Robert Watkins at the award ceremony with the four awardees (standing L/R): Mr. Syed Faruq Ahmed, Upazila Nirbahi Officer, Kaliganj, Khulna, Mr. Mr. Mohammed Gaus, Divisional Commissioner Barisal, Mr. Mohammed Mostafa Kamal, Deputy Commissioner Khulna, Mr. Mohammad Golam Kibria for Mr. Shahabuddin Khan, Deputy Commissioner Jamalpur.

Canadian High Commissioner Benoît-Pierre Laramée and Trade Commissioner Kamal Uddin speak with a guest during the reception following the award ceremony.

Canada is a firm defender of children’s rights including the right to live without the dangers of child, early and forced marriage (CEFM). As a developmental priority for Canada, Canada has been working with partners in multiple countries including Bangladesh to eliminate the harmful practice.

2015 marked a significant milestone for efforts against child, early forced marriage in Bangladesh as four local officials were recognized by The High Commission of Canada to Bangladesh for their leadership in working to eliminate CEFM.

Mohammad Gaus, Divisional Commissioner of Barisal, Mohammed Mostafa Kamal, Deputy Commissioner of Khulna, Mohammed Shahbuddin Khan, Deputy Commissioner of Jamalpur, and Syed Frauq Ahmed, Upazila Nirbahi Officer of Kaliganj were honoured by the High Commission of Canada in the award ceremony.

A national vision, a local effort

The efforts of the four individuals had far reaching impact in Bangladesh where child, early and forced marriage remain pervasive.

Deputy Commissioner Kamal was awarded for his district action plan in Bangladesh’s Khulna district which aimed to reduce the rate of child marriage. The plan spread awareness of the impact of child marriage using Pot Song, a popular traditional story telling method of music and painted pots in southern Bangladesh. This localized effort was supported by UNICEF and Rupantar and highly effective in raising the message.

UN Resident Coordinator Robert Watkins, Canadian High Commissioner Benoît-Pierre Laramée and Minister Tarana Halim present an award to Mr. Mohammed Mostafa Kamal, Deputy Commissioner Khulna.

“This January, the rate of child marriage was 70 percent [in the district], but now according to an assessment by UNICEF, the rate went down to 40 percent” said Kamal in an interview with The Daily Star.

Divisional Commissioner Gaus personally monitored the development of child marriage interventions in the Barisal division and gathered community and UNICEF support to expand his interventions to other districts.

Deputy Commissioner Khan established a reputation as the “Divisional Commissioner of Ending child Marriage,” for his personal engagement to eliminating CEFM. Khan addressed over 5,000 people during local level campaigns as a key speaker and developed a database of youth vulnerable to child marriage in UNICEF targeted areas.

Upazila Nirbahi Officer Ahmed demonstrated excellence in collaboration with various NGOs, government officials, and religious leaders to expand efforts against eliminating CEFM. By mobilizing the various stakeholders and the public, he organized an impressive gathering of those declaring their goal to make Kaliganj the first CEFM–free upazila in Bangladesh.

A work in progress

At the award ceremony, High Commissioner of Canada to Bangladesh Benoît-Pierre Laramée recognized the four officials’ unique contribution to ending CEFM in Bangladesh by stating: “The Prime Minister and the Cabinet form laws and set priorities. But at the end of the day, it is officials, at the Divisional, District, Upazila or Union level, who are responsible for implementation”

High Commissioner Laramée also recognized youth leaders from Plan Bangladesh who are leaders in their communities in preventing child marriage.

Following the awards ceremony, the High Commission also held a reception which gathered various diplomats, NGOs and business leaders of Bangladesh. The reception featured a photo gallery of powerful images of child marriage in Bangladesh by photographer Allison Joyce.

Introducing the award winners to the distinguished guests, the High Commissioner reiterated an important point about the vast work accomplished by unnamed individuals.

“We have chosen to highlight today the achievements of these four individuals and of their teams. But there are many other champions for girls and development in Bangladesh. Since I have arrived in Bangladesh I have witnessed people from all across society working on this issue. They are far too numerous to name, but I salute each and every one of them.” said High Commissioner Laramée.

Daniel Loutfi, Head of Public Affairs at the Canadian High Commission and a guest discuss photographer Allison Joyce’s photos of child marriage in Bangladesh.

The road to completely eliminating CEFM will be challenging for Bangladesh where the practice is still prevalent. However, a Bangladesh without CEFM will become reality through great local initiatives and international collaboration.

Canada will continue working with partner countries in paving a future without CEFM so they can enjoy their youth without the burden of child marriage.

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