Growing Up Safe and Healthy (SAFE)

The SAFE project builds the social and health assets of vulnerable adolescent girls in urban Bangladesh, thereby improving their capabilities and well-being and reducing gender-based violence.

The Issue

Child marriage and gender-based violence remain significant problems in Bangladesh. While it is illegal for girls under 18 to marry, more than 60% of girls in the country are married before they reach 18. Legal and policy reforms to address gender-based violence have had limited impact. Research shows that less than 2% of married women who have experienced physical violence seek any kind of remedy or service.

Young women living in urban slums face the greatest challenges. Their vulnerability to child marriage and violence is often compounded by poverty, insecure living arrangements, frequent squatter evictions, weak social networks, the absence of civic society institutions, the lack of public services, and poor coordination among services.

The Progress

The SAFE project conducts group sessions with adolescent girls and boys, young women and men, and local community leaders in urban slums. Participants learn about and discuss child marriage, violence prevention, available legal and health services, and proposed legal and policy reforms. The project also provides health and legal aid services from nearby one-stop centers.

The Council is comparing the effectiveness of three different approaches to reducing gender-based violence:

  • Study arm A involves community awareness-raising, group sessions with female and male participants, and access to one-stop service centers.
  • Study arm B involves community awareness-raising, group sessions with only female participants, and access to one-stop service centers.
  • Study arm C, the comparison arm, involves community awareness-raising and access to one-stop service centers, but has no group sessions.

Prevention messages communicated within the SAFE project focus on bodily integrity, intimate decisionmaking, choice, and consent. The project offers a comprehensive package of skills and services through one-stop service centers near slums. It aims to enhance access to available remedies and related referrals through implementation of the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2010.

The Population Council conducted formative and baseline research and is assessing changes in behaviors and attitudes attributable to the program. Baseline data confirmed very high rates of early marriage and gender-based violence and documented the vulnerability of recent migrants.

The Impact

This project will generate data to shape governmental and nongovernmental programs to reduce gender-based violence and child marriage in the urban slums of Bangladesh.

Baseline data analysis showed a high correlation between migration status and poor sexual and reproductive health and the experience of violence. Women in slums have very high prevalence of early marriage. Gender-based violence is strongly correlated with sexually transmitted diseases, abortion seeking, and husband’s multiple marriages and alcohol and drug use.

Principal Investigator

Key Staff (3)