In Bangladesh, research shows that young girls are disproportionately and most acutely impacted by child sexual abuse (CSA). As of 2020, as many as 98 percent of reported victims of CSA and child sexual exploitation were girls, and 90 percent of the victims of online sexual harassment and abuse were pre-teen and teenage girls. At the forefront of this challenge, child marriage remains commonplace; according to the 2017–18 Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey, 60 percent of girls in Bangladesh are married before they turn 18. While research shows that young girls are disproportionately and most acutely impacted, accurate and comprehensive statistics on CSA in Bangladesh are difficult to establish, and, like elsewhere, cases are generally thought to be under-reported.
These various manifestations of CSA persist despite a range of legal protections. Bangladesh’s constitution emphasizes the fundamental rights of children, while additional laws have strengthened protection for children in recent years. The National Children Policy of 2011 seeks to protect girls in particular from sexual harassment, pornography, and other forms of physical and mental abuse, while the Children Act of 2013 changed the government classification of a “child” from under age 16 to 18 and established a range of enhanced child-protection efforts, such as the establishment of juvenile courts in every district, among other updates. Other relevant recent legislation includes the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 2017, the Prevention of Violence against Women and Children (Amendment) Act 2020, and the Digital Security Act of 2018.
Numerous ministries within Bangladesh’s government bear responsibility for efforts to counteract and prevent CSA. The Ministry of Women and Children Affairs (MoWCA) plays the key governmental role as the entity responsible for policy and strategic planning to protect children’s rights, including combatting CSA. For example, it directs the National Action Plan to Prevent Violence against Women and Children, 2018–2030, which includes activity on areas such as facilitating legal assistance, raising awareness, improving socio-economic conditions for women and children, expanding protective services, and developing prevention and rehabilitation. In total, the plan lists an additional 30 ministries that bear some relevance to implementation, chief among which are the Ministry of Social Welfare, the Ministry of Law, Justice, and Parliamentary Affairs, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and the Ministry of Education. Other national plans and programs relevant to fighting CSA include the National Action Plan to End Child Marriage 2018–2030 and the National Strategy for Adolescent Health, 2017–2030. Together, under the direction of the MoWCA, these entities, laws, plans, and programs constitute Bangladesh’s efforts to prevent and respond to CSA, particularly the issue of child marriage.
The MoWCA is the premier institution with responsibility for preventing and responding to CSA in Bangladesh. The ministry notes the establishment of rights for women and children as its driving mission, and its major functions include “ensur[ing] the welfare and development” and “legal and social rights” of women and children. Pursuant to cases of CSA, MoWCA seeks to ensure access to a range of services for abused children, such as medical services, legal support, counseling, and shelter and food aid, and also seeks to identify abusers through DNA testing. The ministry’s budget has been steadily increasing in recent years, rising from BDT 37.5 million in FY 2019–20 to BDT 47.6 million in FY 2023–24, an increase of 26.8 percent. Furthermore, it is set to continue to rise to a projected BDT 55.5 million in FY 2025–26.
Total Budget – Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs
Data source: Medium Term Expenditure Estimates Ministry of Women and Children Affairs 2019–20, 2022–23, and 2023–24
Note: The Medium-Term Expenditure Estimates, in both English and Bengali, were the most detailed, consistently available budget documents analyzed for this project. Other available budget documentation generally offered less detail, or a comparable level of detail but less consistently available. Notably, certain years are missing from the Ministry of Finance’s website in either English or Bengali—specifically FY 2020–21 and FY 2021–22—requiring this analysis to rely on estimates from preceding years in some cases.
Medium-term expenditure estimates within the ministry’s Secretariat and Department of Women Affairs offer a glimpse into certain CSA-relevant spending priorities, such as “Accelerating protection for children,” “Day care centers,” “Safe custody for women, children, and adolescent girls,” and “Accelerating action to end child marriage.” Funding across these categories does not exhibit distinct patterns of change, instead seeing funding spikes in certain years and a general stagnation overall across the FY 2019–FY 2025 time period. (See Figure 2.) For example, funding for “Accelerating protection for children” spikes in FY 2022–23 at BDT 406.3 million, more than twice its FY 2019–20 level, but falls to zero projected for FY 2025–26. Funding for “Day care centers” shows 21.0 percent growth over this time period, though funding dropped by nearly half during FY 2021–22, likely due to the effects of COVID-19. Finally, funding for “Accelerating action to end child marriage” is far less than for other listed priorities—for example, just 2.3 percent of that allocated to “Day care centers” in FY 2019–20—and receives no money in four of the seven years analyzed. This low and intermittent level of specified funding for ending child marriage conflicts with the MoWCA’s responsibility in the issue space, as outlined in the National Action Plan to End Child Marriage, 2018–2030. Importantly, while likely relevant to CSA, none of these budgeting categories acknowledges sexual abuse specifically.
CSA-Related Expenditure Estimates – Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs
While Bangladesh has a number of action plans and strategies that are relevant to combatting and responding to CSA, they rarely include information about budgetary commitments to accompany strategic visions or goals. Chief among these is the National Action Plan to Prevent Violence against Women and Children, 2018–2030 (NAPVAWC). The thirty-seven-page document lists specific activities for addressing violence across chapters like “Social Awareness and Mental Transformation,” “Protective Services for Violence against Women and Children,” and “Prevention and Rehabilitation” but offers no indication of how relevant government entities will be supported financially to accomplish these targets. A similar pattern is evident in an earlier iteration of the national action plan (2013–2025). In addition to the latest iteration of the plan, the NAPVAWC monitoring and evaluation framework, published in December 2020, offered further clarification of entities that bear responsibility for seeing the action plan through to fruition, including projected milestones and means for verifying progress. While additive in terms of clarifying the scope of the work Bangladesh’s government seeks to undertake, and clear-sighted about the problem of sexual and gender-based abuse, it only provides limited insight into spending to accomplish this goal. The appendix notes the need for a “further serious plan of action to accomplish the task of costing the items” within the plan and provides a structure for relevant ministries to identify related costed items, but the actual values associated with these entries are left blank. As the appendix notes, “a detailed plan for financing the activities” of the action plan is still needed, “as we are already ahead of the base year 2018.”
The disconnect between national plans and funding realities can be seen elsewhere, such as the ninety-page National Action Plan to End Child Marriage, 2018–2030, which devotes just a single paragraph to funding for implementing the plan:
In order to ensure proper implementation of the National Action Plan, it is necessary to consider the allocation of specific budget for the 7th Five Year Plan. For the prevention of child marriage, the ministry will monitor the resource mobilization and results by measuring the progress of implementation of proposed strategies and programmes of the proposed budget and budgetary indicators.
The NAPVAWC monitoring and evaluation framework provides further information for twenty-one additional government entities that are responsible for aspects of the plan, but neither CSA, nor even child protection, receives specific mention in available national-level budget documents analyzed for those entities. For example, the latest batch of Medium-Term Expenditure Estimates, for FY 2023–24, fails to reference CSA across numerous entities called out in the NAPVAWC, such as the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education (and Secondary and Higher Education Division), the Ministry of Social Welfare, or the Ministry of Youth and Sports. When issues related to child protection are mentioned specifically, they are too general to be directly attributed to responding to CSA. For example, the Law and Justice Division makes note of contributions to “Women and children repression prevention tribunals” and “Strengthening capacity of judicial system for child protection in Bangladesh.” While each of these government entities may be contributing toward preventing and responding to CSA, the scope of those contributions and their trajectory is obscured by the lack of available budgeting information.
If the state of child marriage in Bangladesh is taken as a proxy, albeit imperfect, for the country’s efforts to prevent and respond to CSA, there is much progress to be made, particularly in terms of changing cultural perceptions. As Masuma Billah, program head for gender justice and diversity at BRAC, noted regarding child marriage, “People don’t understand the brutality of the child marriage, because within the culture it is accepted.” Moreover, Bangladesh’s government institutions are yet to develop the approaches needed to ingrain the perspectives of victims in policymaking and response: “The institutions are not ready. . . . In institutions, the child-level perceptions are absent.” Given the range of forms that CSA can take beyond child marriage and the limited availability of data on such abuse, Bangladesh faces a multi-layered challenge.
“The institutions are not ready. . . . In institutions, the child-level perceptions are absent.”
Masuma Billah, program head for Gender Justice and Diversity at BRAC
While Bangladesh has invested resources into developing comprehensive action plans across areas such as violence against women and children and ending child marriage, outlining which government entities bear responsibility for leading the charge against CSA, the lack of identifiable budget commitments at the national level makes progress on these issues appear more theoretical than tangible. The absence of specific budgeting figures associated with the country’s premier plan related to CSA, the National Action Plan to Prevent Violence against Women and Children, 2018–2030, and the lack of clear budget allocations to this end within the budgets of most related government entities make it difficult to assess whether strategic plans are also translating into strategic action. In the case of child marriage, Bangladesh’s most recent action plan, covering 2018 to 2030, would better communicate the government’s commitment to the issue if accompanied by budget allocations (even if projected) in the short and medium term to clarify not only which government entities will respond but the extent of resources they will have to do so. Ultimately, these commitments could then be clearly identified in national annual budget documentation to help establish a clear line among strategic visions, responsible parties, established objectives, committed resources, and, hopefully, verifiable progress.