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Bangladesh school girl Girl learning at school in Hatibandha, Bangladesh. Plan International / Saikat Mojumder


Bangladesh is one of the world’s most densely populated countries despite recent declines in fertility. It achieved lower-middle income status in 2015—with strong economic growth, driven by the ready-made garment sector, lowering its poverty rate from about one-half to one-third. In 2015, just over one-third of its citizens lived in urban areas and the average child could be expected to complete ten years of education. About one-in-ten Bangladeshi citizens are adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19.

Education and learning: Girls are more likely to enrol in both primary and secondary school than boys – but boys remain more likely to complete secondary school than girls. Boys are also over-represented in both technical/vocational and higher education and have better access to information and technology.

Bodily integrity: Despite significant recent progress in reducing child marriage, especially for the youngest girls, 16% of girls are married by the age of 15 and 59% are married by the age of 18. Nearly 90% of adolescent girls experience sexual harassment. Of married girls, over 40% experience physical violence and nearly 25% sexual violence at the hands of their husbands.

Sexual and reproductive health: Due to child marriage and a continued preference for early childbearing, adolescent pregnancy is common in Bangladesh – 58% of girls have begun childbearing by the age of 19. Young mothers are unlikely to receive skilled delivery or postnatal care.

Nutrition: Malnutrition remains common among Bangladeshi girls, which is especially problematic given their pregnancy rates.

Psychosocial wellbeing: There is very little evidence about adolescent girls’ broader psychosocial wellbeing. Research has found that girls – especially urban girls – are likely to have mental health problems, due to their social isolation and experiences with sexual harassment, abuse, and child marriage.

Voice and agency: While there are recent shifts towards more gender-equitable attitudes, especially for younger cohorts, adolescent girls’ voice and agency are tightly restricted by social norms that see their roles as biologically and religiously ordained – and largely confined to reproductive tasks.

Economic empowerment: Girls and women are comparatively unlikely to work for pay, especially after marriage, due to social norms that burden them with heavy domestic responsibilities and restrict their movement. Data from the 2014 DHS shows that only 16% of married adolescents aged 15-19 were employed.