Marriage Practices in an Urban Slum: Vulnerability, Challenges to Traditional Arrangements and Resistance by Adolescent Women in Dhaka, Bangladesh
31 Pages Posted: 19 Dec 2008
Date Written: August 1, 2006
Compared to Southeast Asia, Dhaka city represents an apparent anomaly: a rapidly growing metropolis with relatively little change in early marriage practices, with 51 percent of 15-19 year-old females in 2000 already married. The rapid influx of rural poor families to Dhaka has led to a rapid increase in urban population growth, slum settlements and worsening poverty. Ethnographic fieldwork among married adolescent girls, aged 15-19, was carried out in a Dhaka slum from December 2001 to January 2003, including 50 in-depth interviews, 8 case studies from among 153 married adolescent girls, and observations and discussions with family and community. Informed by critical medical anthropology , this paper is about how early marriage practices and marital instability in an urban slum in Dhaka are grounded in the social, political and economic structures of their lives. A climate of poverty, violence and insecurity encourage early marriage practices and incidents of coerced marriages. Lawlessness, fears of sexual harassment and gang wars are a motivating factor for many families. In addition, the incentive to pay smaller dowries for poor families especially if their daughter is younger is also a motivating factor. While urbanization and the advent of the garment industry has increased employment opportunities and options for young girls, this has also led to a shift in traditional marriage arrangements, with greater incidence of love marriages, without parental permission at times. Incidents of young women resisting marriages organised by parents highlight a shift in parental authority as increasingly girls who work assert their agency, preferring to select and choose their own partners. The reasons for early marriage in a slum are shaped increasingly by structural and social inequalities which compel families and young women to make choices and trade-offs in order to survive in the difficult environment.
 Disease is understood to be social as well as biological, and there is a focus on the links between disease and social class, poverty, power and ill health, i.e. the political economy of health.
Keywords: early marriage, insecurity, resistance, adolescent women, ethnography, Bangladesh
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