Developing Youth Groups in Bangladesh to Support Peers at Risk of Early Marriage

Zaki Wahhaj is awarded a Global Innovation Fund grant, aiming to reach 50 communities across Bangladesh.

Professor Zaki Wahhaj is part of an international team of researchers and practitioners that has received an award of USD 805,000 from the Global Innovation Fund* (GIF) for a project titled “Developing Youth Groups in Bangladesh to Support Peers at Risk of Early Marriage”.

The Global Innovation Fund (GIF) is a charitable social-first investment fund whose mission is to find, fund, and scale-up cost-effective, evidence-based innovations that have the potential to measurably improve the lives of millions of people living on $5 a day or less in the developing world

This project is a collaboration between the University of Kent, Bangladesh Legal Aid Services Trust (BLAST), and Monash University Malaysia and will deliver and evaluate a new programme designed to tackle the issue of female early marriage – i.e. the marriage of girls below the age of 18 – across 50 urban neighbourhoods with a population of 30,000 households in four districts of Bangladesh. Although marriage below 18 is illegal in Bangladesh, the practice is still widespread, typically arranged by parents or extended family members. The initiative, SafePlus, empowers youth groups by providing leadership, negotiation and legal training, supervised and delivered by experienced paralegals. The groups are then mentored and equipped to deliver activities and legal support within their communities.

Wahhaj will lead on the research component of the project with Professor Niaz Asadullah at Monash University Malaysia as co-Principal Investigator. “The research will combine an experimental design and qualitative data analysis to evaluate the impact of SafePlus, including its effects on school dropout, marriage timing, and aspirations of adolescent girls within the community”, Professor Wahhaj said. “An important aim of the research is to understand how the initiative affects attitudes towards early marriage within communities and the risk of backlash from any segments of the community”.

SafePlus will be delivered by BLAST, the largest non-governmental legal services organisation in Bangladesh. BLAST’s unique approach involves grassroots youth network development and building paralegal capabilities, which sets them apart from existing programmes in the adolescent space. Their long-term vision is to establish a highly impactful, cost-effective, and scalable model that effectively leverages legal tools to prevent early marriage.

The project will also involve collaboration with mPower, a social enterprise based in Dhaka, Bangladesh that develops digital solutions to address socio-economic issues. mPower will develop a mobile app for the youth groups for reporting and consultation regarding their acitivities. The Dhaka-based survey firm, Data Analysis and Technical Assistance (DATA) will be responsible for conducting surveys and interviews in the study areas to evaluate the programme. Funded through GIF’s Innovating for Gender Equality sub-fund which is aimed at innovations with a potential to increase the agency of women and girls.

View the Impact Report Here.