Dhaka, Aug 2: Bangladesh on Thursday launched a national action plan to put an end to marriages of girls aged less than 18 years through institutional initiatives, programmes, and joint efforts.

The plan, which is being developed jointly with the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef), aims to put an end to marriages of girls under the age of 15, reduce by one-third the rate of marriage of 18-year-olds by 2021 and completely eliminate child marriage by 2041, Xinhua news agency reported.

“It is difficult to stop child marriage overnight. The family which is extremely poor, the girl who does not have any guardians it is difficult to stop child marriage for them,” said Meher Afroz Chumki, junior minister for Women and Children Affairs.

According to Unicef, Bangladesh has the fourth highest rate of child marriage in the world, behind Niger, the Central African Republic and Chad. Between 2005-2013 alone, 65 per cent of Bangladeshi women got married before the age of 18.

The Bangladeshi government estimates that the rate has been declining in recent years and fell to 62.8 per cent in 2015 and later to 47 per cent in 2017.

In the last year, the number of married girls under the age of 15 was 10.7 per cent, less than half the rate recorded in 2015, according to the official data included in the national action plan.

The Ministry of Women and Children Affairs Secretary Nasima Begum expressed optimism about the success of the programme in eradicating the problem “before the stipulated time”.