Family and household systems have tremendous impacts on the daily lives of camp residents, and family power structures inform most facets of day-to-day life. Marriage is a traditional reason for Rohingya women to relocate. The Rohingya custom of patrilocality dictates that a woman move to her husband’s village once she marries and becomes a member of his gusshi (a Rohingya term referring to a family clan). There has also been a high rate of marriage in the camps, with 24 percent of families having had a daughter leave the shelter to move in with her husband.
Marriage sometimes affects a Rohingya person’s citizenship status, which may vary within the same family. Due to the irregular application of immigration laws, some women are able to acquire Myanmar citizenship after marriage.
Dowries are customarily exchanged in Bangladesh, but became illegal under the 1980 Dowry Prohibition Act. Economic analysis around the role of dowries in the Rohingya camps finds that, as refugees are prevented from building capital and strengthening livelihoods, the practice perpetuates with impacts on household economy for both brides’ and grooms’ families. Dowries can include cash as well as clothing, gold jewelry, smartphones, and other items. According to 2019 research by CPJ and The Asia Foundation, 79 percent of marriages that have taken place in the camps entailed giving a dowry. Dowry costs vary greatly: for marriages in which they took place, 19 percent of payments amounted to 20,000 taka or less, while 25 percent amounted to over 60,000 taka. Camp residents describe the giving of dowries as an imported practice that Rohingya began to undertake long ago, commonplace and difficult to break yet clearly prohibited by Islam. In the December 2020 rapid analysis, an equal percentage, 79 percent, said they do not feel that dowries are good for the community.
According to UNICEF, 74 percent of Bangladeshi women currently aged 20 to 49 wed before the age of 18, though the legal minimum marriage age is 18 years for girls and 21 for boys. Previous quantitative analysis found that 62 percent of Rohingya women living in the camps also wed before the age of 18. Though marriage for underage girls and boys is still seen by many as acceptable and permissible, camp residents expressed concerns about its negative impacts. Lack of jobs, education and security for adolescents are seen as main drivers. With no way to achieve other life milestones such as building a career or finishing school, marriage and starting a family are amongst few available rites of passage.