11 January 2017
In a letter to her parents 3 years ago, a 16 year-old girl from Bangladesh wrote, “Child marriage not only breaks an adolescent girl’s dreams, but also blocks her intelligence and potentiality. It cripples a girl physically and mentally. Dear mother and father, do you want to see your beloved daughter in such situation?”
In the coming weeks, the Bangladeshi Parliament will consider the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2016 which includes a special provision allowing marriage, with parental consent and judicial consent, for girls under 18 in ‘special cases’ or for ‘the greater good of the adolescent’. It defines no minimum age of marriage, and does not define ‘special cases’ or the ‘greater good’, leaving the exception open to potential abuse. Statements by the Prime Minister indicate that this provision would be used in ‘special cases’, such as ‘accidental’ or ‘illegal’ pregnancy, or where a marriage would protect a girl’s ‘honour’. Bangladesh’s minimum age of marriage is currently18 with no exceptions. If the provision is included in the final act it would mark a step backwards for a country which has made significant strides towards ending child marriage over recent years. Bangladesh has the highest child marriage in South Asia - 52% of girls are married under the age of 18.
“The progress Bangladesh has made to address child marriage is impressive, and reflects a real commitment from the highest levels of the Government. Now is not the time to regress. In 2014, thousands of girls from schools across Bangladesh wrote open letters to their parents passionately declaring their right to stay in school and out of child marriage. These children need to be listened to. Marriage before 18 does not ensure a pregnant girl’s safety. In reality it exposes her to the risk of sexual, physical and psychological violence. Complications during pregnancy and childbirth is the second leading causes of death in girls aged 15-19 in low- and middle-income countries. Protection for girls who are pregnant should come in the form of medical and healthcare services. Girls should also be able to continue their education, with the provision of child care if necessary, and support from their families and communities.” Said Girls Not Brides, Executive Director, Lakshmi Sundaram.
“The provision to allow child marriage under any circumstances is alarming and of great concern to both civil society organisations who work with girls affected by child marriage and early pregnancy, and more importantly, to the girls themselves. We have worked with thousands of girls who have been pulled out of education, married off early, bear the scars of early pregnancy, and forced to marry their abusers. This is simply unacceptable. Especially at a time when neighbouring South Asian countries are taking steps to amend their legislative frameworks to prohibit exceptions to the minimum age of 18. Bangladesh made a commitment to protect Bangladesh’s daughters from marriage before 18 in 2014 when we signed the Kathmandu Call for Action to End Child Marriage in South Asia. Bangladesh’s Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, also committed to ending child marriage at the 2014 Girl Summit, hosted by the UK. We must honour these commitments by removing the special provision and by taking positive steps towards finalising the draft National Plan of Action on child marriage.” Said a spokesperson from Girls Not Brides Bangladesh.
Civil society organisations in Bangladesh have planned a rally on Wednesday 18 January, BDT 3pm at the Central Shahid Minar, to protest against the inclusion of this special provision. It is expected that a large number of social activists, doctors, lawyers, cultural activists, teachers, youth, girls and parents will take part in the rally.
For interviews with Lakshmi Sundaram please contact Maryam Mohsin, Communications Officer, Girls Not Brides: media@GirlsNotBrides.org / +44 7436 095435
For more information: Bangladesh and the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2016: A recap
About Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage
Girls Not Brides is a global partnership of more than 650 civil society organisations from over 85 countries united by a commitment to work in partnership to end child marriage and enable girls to fulfil their potential. In consultation with more than 150 members, partners and experts, Girls Not Brides created a common Theory of Change, which outlines the range of approaches needed to end child marriage.
In the time it has taken to read this article 43 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 2 seconds