Earlier this week, the Bangladeshi Parliament discussed the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2016, a bill which reportedly includes a special provision allowing child marriage at any age in “special cases”, such as “accidental” or “illegal” pregnancy, or where a marriage would protect a girl’s “honour”.
The current legal minimum age of marriage in Bangladesh is 18 for women and 21 for men. The exception reportedly provides no minimum age.
There are fears that such a provision would legitimise statutory rape and encourage the practice of child marriage in a country with one of the highest child marriage rates in the world. According to UNICEF (2016), 52% of girls in Bangladesh are married by the age of 18, and 18% by the age of 15.
In the below statement, Girls Not Brides Bangladesh: The Bangladeshi Partnership to End Child Marriage asks the Prime Minister and Members of Parliament to refrain from lowering the age of marriage for girls.
To the Hon’ble Prime Minister and respected Members of Parliament
Greetings from Girls Not Brides Bangladesh partnership. We came to know from media that the Cabinet approved the “Draft Child Marriage Restrain Act 2016” on 24 November 2016. This act is very important to ensure rights of girl child in Bangladesh. We thank to the Prime Minister for setting 18 as age of girl's marriage. At the same time, we also worry for keeping a provision of "special circumstances" in the name of ensuring their "best interest". According to this provision, marriage of a minor girl in special circumstances will not be considered as crime (Daily Prothom Alo, 24 November 2016). We demand to refrain from adding any clause that hinders 18 as minimum age of marriage for girls. It is possible and should solve such matters of special situations in the Rules of the CMRA or in the Rules of the Marriage Registry Act.
We would like to request to consider the followings issues in formulating the act without adding the provision of "special circumstances":
We believe that the present government has taken number of progressive steps for women empowerment. But the provision of “special circumstances” in the “Draft Child Marriage Restrain Act 2016” will be a major step backwards and create a barrier to make further progress.
- The honorable Prime Minister has been a pioneer of women’s empowerment journey in Bangladesh. She pledged in the UK Girl Summit in 2014 that by 2021, marriage for girls under age 15 will be eliminated and marriage rate of girls between the ages 15 and 18 will be reduced by one-third. Such commitment is not consistent with the provision of “special circumstances”;
- The provision of “special circumstances” is conflicting with the Constitution of Bangladesh—that guarantees in particular protecting fundamental rights of citizens, equality before law (Article 27), no discrimination based on sex (Article 28) and freedom to opinion;
- The provision of “special circumstances” is also conflicting with the CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) 1979 and the UNCRC (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) 1989 as accepted internationally and declared by the United Nations. Bangladesh is a signatory to UNCRC which clearly defines age of child as 18; The National Children Policy 2011 and the Children Act 2013 consider person under 18 as child. Any provision for marriage of a minor girl will be conflicting with the existing laws. The Majority Act 1875 regards consent and voice as linked to age of adulthood which is set at 18 years of age whereas as per the special provision, a minor girl could be married. The special provision thus contradicts national laws which define the age and associated responsibilities of minors.
- According to the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection Act 2010) anyone under 18 years is a child. Allowing marriage below 18 years in any circumstance should be considered as encouraging child marriage, which is a serious violation of children’s rights and a form of sexual violence against girl child. This will increase the sexual violence towards girl children and domestic violence rate which is at present 80% (BBS 2016). According to the Prevention of Oppression Against Women and Children (amended) Act 2003, sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 16, with or without her consent, will be considered as rape. Therefore, the provision of “special circumstances” will legalize child rape through marriage. The rapist and perpetrator will legalize their crimes applying such “special circumstances” provision.
- Lowering marriage of girls will be negative to girls’ health, education and their empowerment processes, at the same time, rate of violence against women and children (VAWC) will be increased. The girl child will be excluded from the development process. Girls will be pregnant at an immature age, risk of maternal and neo-natal death, cervical cancer and girls’ drop out from school will be increased and women’s contribution to the development in the country will be limited. Such decision is harmful for the country.
- While there are already gaps into implementation of the existing laws e.g. marry off girl showing false birth certificate, the rate of marriage for minor girl will be increased since the provision allows consent from court and her parents. In addition, marriage in minor age will create extreme pressure to a girl but she may not be ready—both physiologically and mentally;
- The provision of “special circumstances” targets the girl child; therefore, creates gender discrimination. It is noticeable that taking permission from the court and consent from the girl herself has not made mandatory. This is a violation of children’s rights. It will encourage the persistent rate of sexual violence of girl children.
Within these contexts, Girls Not Brides Bangladesh strongly urges government to refrain from adding any clause that hinders 18 as minimum age of marriage for girls in the draft Child Marriage Restraint Act 2016.
On behalf of the members of Girls Not Brides Bangladesh: BRAC, 2. Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), 3. Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, 4. Care Bangladesh, 5. Population Council, 6. icddr,b, 7. National Girl Child Advocacy Forum, 8. White Ribbon Alliance Bangladesh, 9. World Vision Bangladesh, 10. Mariestopes Bangladesh, 11. Plan International Bangladesh, 12. Family Planning Association Bangladesh, 13. Youth Forum Promoting Access to Development, 14. ActionAid Bangladesh, 15. Terre Des Homes Netherlands, 16. Save the Children Bangladesh 17. Manusher Jonno Foundation, 18. Shariatpur Development Society, 19. Social Economic Development Society, Barishal, 20. Kothoain, 21. Voluntary Service Overseas, 22. Dalit Secretariat, Girls Not Brides Bangladesh, BRAC Center, 75, Mohakhali, Dhaka 1212
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In the time it has taken to read this article 68 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 3 seconds