Tag Archives Bangladesh

Knowledge is power: how ‘infomediaries’ are helping marginalized communities in Bangladesh claim access to information

South Asian countries have made remarkable progress in adopting laws that provide citizens with the right to information. Yet in many instances, information still cannot be accessed, or differentiated access to information can be observed. ‘Infomediaries’ introduced in Bangladesh through a community empowerment programme have played an essential role in helping marginalized people access information by mediating between communities as information seekers and local governments as information providers. Such actors may assist marginalized communities in South Asia and beyond in claiming their right to information, writes Sujoy Dutta.

Legislation guaranteeing access to information has been globally recognized as a fundamental human right. Such legislation can empower citizens in urban and rural spaces, including women, by allowing them unrestricted access to information. This helps to promote transparency and accountability, for example by facilitating the review of government policies and programmes to prevent the misuse of government resources by officials.

However, the implementation of such acts does not always take place in ways that benefit all citizens equally. Studies indicate that merely creating a legal space is not enough to ensure that poor people can access information. Neuman and Calland argue that ensuring citizens’ right to information is a three-phased process that involves the introduction of law, its implementation, and, finally, its enactment. All the elements of this ‘transparency triangle’ are crucial and interrelated; however, the implementation phase is of paramount importance and serves as the base of the triangle.

In South Asian countries, the enactment of such laws occurred in the wake of political reform and the deepening of democracy. Pakistan was the first country to introduce a Right of Access to Information Act in 2002, followed by India (in 2005), Nepal (in 2007) and Bangladesh (in 2009). All these countries introduced this law after years of lobbying by civil society groups. While the laws are key for holding governments accountable, their use by poor communities in this region remains restricted.


What’s happening in India?

India’s Right To Information Act is considered to be one of the most robust laws in South Asia, yet it remains untapped by the poor and marginalized communities, who have limited means of access. In five Indian states (Goa, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Delhi), citizens are more likely to access this law, as requests for information prompt officials to act “almost like magic”. This is because, once an application for accessing information has been submitted, the government is expected to produce results.

But in states that are considered less progressive, like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where incomes and literacy rates are lower and corruption is rampant due to poor governance, awareness this law is limited. In these states, government officials undermine transparency norms, refuse to provide the requested information, and reject appeals to access information on spurious grounds. These practices mock transparency laws, as the poor have a hard time dealing with inflexible bureaucratic officials and procedures.

Experiences from Mexico suggest that expanding the use of right to information to disadvantaged communities requires trustworthy intermediaries. In many countries, this role has been entrusted to NGOs, as well as community and youth groups, who enable the poor to submit their information requests without delay. This helps everyone not only to access information, but also to interrogate anti-democratic practices. A community empowerment programme of Bangladesh has shown how intermediaries can make an impact. Such configurations can be replicated in parts of South Asia and in other parts of the world where information has not reached disadvantaged sections of the population.


How ‘infomediaries’ are helping marginalized people

India’s more restrictive states could take cues from the Community Empowerment Programme (CEP) of Bangladesh. Introduced in 2011 and supported by the World Bank and the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), the programme is empowering the poor (especially women) to overcome difficulties they face while obtaining information. The activities of the programme include the identification, training, and assignment of ‘informediaries’– a cadre of information intermediaries who have a basic understanding of the law and are chosen from within the community to motivate villagers to access information. These informediaries hold information clinics aimed at developing better-informed citizens as they link the marginalized sections with state machinery.

In Bangladesh, these informediaries were selected from Polli Samaj, a popular theatre group who are accepted by villagers. Their role is to gather information queries from the community and submit applications of right to information to the relevant government or NGO offices on their behalf. When answers to the relevant information are received, they are passed on to the applicants.

Based on their popularity, these infomediaries are able to establish a close rapport with public officials through their repeated visits. This allows them access to information with relatively greater success. In many instances, they have been effective in assisting marginalized groups (including women) to access information by overcoming multiple barriers. These include communication, infrastructure, and unpaved roads and inadequate public transportation systems that have made it difficult and time-consuming for the women to travel to lodge their application for information.

However, if this concept is to be implemented in India’s less prosperous states, it has to move a step forward by ensuring that all marginalized groups have access to public offices. Infomediaries should also motivate women to demand information. This will eventually enable these groups to access information without the help of infomediaries.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:


Sujoy Dutta teaches at Tata Institute of Social Sciences in India. His research publications integrate disciplinary tools from political economy, sociology, and public policy, much of which is based on fieldwork-based empirical analysis (in Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and some parts of Maharashtra, India). He holds a doctorate degree from the National University of Singapore and a Master’s degree from the ISS. Currently, he is undertaking extensive fieldwork in India and Bangladesh to examine the impact of the Right to Information Act on poor households.


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When children have children: Can postponing early motherhood help children survive longer?

In 2010, approximately 34% of young women in developing countries – some 67 million – married before reaching 18 years of age. An additional 14-15 million women will marry as children or adolescents every year in the coming decades. Child marriages lead to pregnancies and childbirths at an early age, which can have negative consequences for the health of both mother and child. Does the age at which motherhood takes place matter, and can postponing motherhood into adulthood help increase the chances of children surviving beyond five years of age? My study of teen pregnancies amongst Bangladeshi girls shows that age does matter, and it matters quite a lot.

Baby feet and mother's hand

Globally, in developing countries excluding China, one in three girls will probably be married before they are 18, according to UNFPA figures from 2012. Bangladesh has the highest rate of child marriages in Asia (and the third-highest rate worldwide); two in three women marry as children or adolescents in this country. This exceptionally high rate of child marriages in Bangladesh persists despite a minimum legal marriage age of 18 years for women, and it leads to more teenage pregnancies and a care burden for young women. A survey interviewing 72,662 Bangladeshi mothers in 2001 showed that 10% of interviewed women had their first child between the ages of 10 and 14 years, and another 69% of them had their first child between the ages of 15 and 19 (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Age at which Bangladeshi women have their first child

Bangladeshi women age of first child
Figure 1: In total, 72,662 Bangladeshi women who gave birth in at least two different points in time were surveyed for the Maternal Health Services and Maternal Mortality Survey of 2001. This figure shows which fraction of these women gave birth for the first time at a certain age. Source: Trommlerová (2020).

In general, we know that adolescent childbearing is associated with negative health outcomes for both mother and child. The mother faces an increased risk of premature labour, labour-related complications, and death during delivery (Senderowitz, 1995). She  may also suffer an injury, an infection or a serious health limitation, such as an obstetric fistula or perineal laceration (UNICEF, 2001), due to giving birth. These problems are caused both by physical immaturity and poor socio-economic conditions of young mothers, including a lack of access to sufficient antenatal and obstetric care (WHO, 1999).

The child of an adolescent mother is at a higher risk of a low birth weight (Restrepo-Méndez et al., 2015), which is mainly associated with poor maternal nutrition of adolescents during pregnancy (UNICEF, 2001). Low birth weight is, in turn, a frequent cause of death in the first year of life of infants (McCormick, 1985, Sohely et al., 2001). Apart from biomedical reasons, there are additional channels that link adolescent pregnancies to higher mortality in early childhood. These include insufficient access to maternal health care services and lack of experience in taking care of children.

A better understanding of the link between adolescent childbearing and young children’s survival chances is important as scientific evidence can drive policy changes, particularly in enforcing the minimum legal marriage age in Bangladesh. It can also inform the advocacy of changes in cultural practices. Thus, the central question is: Can postponing motherhood of teenage girls help their children to survive beyond infancy or childhood?

Building on previous knowledge, I looked more closely at the impact of adolescent childbearing on the mortality of young children at different ages between 0 and 5 years. The goal was to separate the effect of having a child at an early age from the fact that poorer (and, frequently, less healthy) mothers tend to marry younger and might therefore have less healthy children. The idea is the following: if children born to young mothers suffer higher mortality in early childhood due to biological factors, such as physical immaturity of mothers and the resulting low birth weight of their children, then we should observe different mortality rates not only between children born to adolescent and adult mothers, but also among siblings born to the same mother in her adolescence and adulthood—that is, in different phases of her life.

It turns out that children born to young mothers (child brides in Bangladesh) are more likely to die in the first year of life than their siblings born later on. This is true irrespective of how rich the household is (left graph in Figure 2). Only in poor households, these negative effects extend up to the child’s fifth birthday (black and blue lines in right graph of Figure 2).

In the two graphs below, we see how much lower the probability of death for an infant or a child is if the mother is older than 10-14 years. The age of the mother is displayed in five-year age groups on the horizontal axes. Different lines indicate different income groups (poorest Quintile 1 – black; Quintile 2 – blue; Quintile 3 – green, Quintile 4 – red; richest Quintile 5 – yellow). The percentage of increased risk of early childhood mortality per age group is shown on the vertical axes of the graphs. The left graph depicts infant mortality (up to one year of age) while the right graph shows child mortality (between one and five years of age).

The graphs show that up to one year of age, the income of the family does not really matter (left) while between one and five years of age, a higher income can help outweigh the negative effect of teenage pregnancies (right). The downward trend observable in the left graph is universal for all income groups and it indicates that all children have higher survival chances in the first year of life if their mother is not a teenager. In the right graph, a similar downward trend is observable only for the two poorest income groups, which means that only in poorer families, children of ages one to five have worse survival chances if their mother is a teenager. The three richer income groups show no downward trend (and their slightly upward trend is statistically not important) which means that in richer families, the mother’s age does not really influence her child’s survival if the child managed to survive the first year of life. The graphs are based on my study of adolescent childbearing among Bangladeshi women.

Figure 2: Infant and child mortality effects of maternal age for five different wealth quintiles

Child mortality Bangladesh
Figure 2: Dash-dotted lines mark the average mortality rate to benchmark the effect sizes. Source: Trommlerová (2020).


These results confirm my idea that the effects of adolescent pregnancies on child survival in the first year of life are of biological nature because they are universal. Possibly, they are related to the immaturity of young girls’ bodies and to low birth weight of their children. Beyond infancy, these negative effects remain only in poorer households, which is consistent with the notion that richer households are able to counteract a biologically induced, worse starting position of children born to adolescent mothers by compensatory investments in child health. However, these investments do not become effective until the children reach the age of one year old.

Finally, the estimated effects are substantial in magnitude: for instance, the survival chances of children born to mothers aged 20-24 years are 56% higher in infants’ first year of life and 24% higher when the child is aged between one and five, when compared to their older siblings who were born to young mothers (aged 10-14 years). These effects either persist or become even larger when comparing adolescent maternal age (10-14) to older ages (25-29, 30-34, etc. up to 45-49 years). Importantly, these results remain true also when I exclude older women or first-born children from the sample.

To summarize, I have shown that infants and children have a much better chance of survival when their mothers are adults. The postponement of motherhood into adulthood could help prevent around 12,900 infant and 18,700 under-five deaths annually in Bangladesh, as rough calculations explained in my paper show. These effects can be directly attributed to the practice of child marriages.

This article is based on a recent paper I authored, see here.

Main reference:

S.K. Trommlerová (2020). When Children Have Children: The Effects of Child Marriages and Teenage Pregnancies on Early Childhood Mortality in Bangladesh. Economics & Human Biology 39, 100904.

Other references:

McCormick, M. (1985). The contribution of low birth weight to infant mortality and childhood morbidity. The New England Journal of Medicine 312(2), 82-90.

Restrepo-Méndez, M.C., D.A. Lawlor, B.L. Horta, A. Matijasevich, I.S. Santos, A.M. Menezes, F.C. Barros and C.G. Victora (2015). The association of maternal age with birthweight and gestational age. Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology 29, 31-40.

Senderowitz, J. (1995). Adolescent Health: Reassessing the Passage to Adulthood. World Bank Discussion Paper 272. World Bank, Washington DC.

Sohely, Y., D. Osrin, E. Paul and A. Costello (2001). Neonatal mortality of low-birth-weight infants in Bangladesh. Bulletin of the World Health Organization 79(7), 608-614.

UNFPA (2012). Marrying Too Young. End Child Marriage. United Nations Population Fund, New York.

UNICEF (2001). Early Marriage – Child Spouses. Innocenti Digest 7. Innocenti Research Centre, Florence.

WHO (1999). The Risks to Women of Pregnancy and Childbearing in Adolescence. WHO, Division of Family Health, Geneva.

About the author:

Sofia TrommlerováSofia Trommlerová is a postdoctoral researcher in economics at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, Spain. Her main research interests encompass family economics, gender, child health, development economics, and economic demography. In 2017-2018 she was a postdoctoral researcher in development economics at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

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