Dhaka, March 7 (BDNews24): The Bangladesh State Minister for Women and Child Welfare Meher Afroz Chumki said here on Tuesday that the present confusion over the Child Marriage Act will be removed when by laws are made under the Act.
There is widespread criticism about allowing child marriage “in special circumstances” under the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017.
Minister Chumki said that the by-laws to be made will remove the peoples’ concerns.
“Newspapers are writing that we are allowing marriage at the age of 15; that we are making it easier for even a rapist to get married easily; and that we are opening the flood-gate of child marriage,” she said.
“It’s a wrong message through which people think that we are making child marriage an option, open to all. But we are just now making by-laws. They are not yet gazette yet. Then how can anyone say that we have opened the floodgates?” she asked
According to the law passed in Parliament on February 27, the minimum age for marriage of females is 18, and for males 21, other than “in exceptional circumstances.”
Human Rights organizations are concerned about the possibility of child marriages soaring due to the special provision when under-aged marriage is already at a worrying level.
Human Rights Watch Report
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) study of 2014, Bangladesh had the fourth-highest rate of child marriage in the world after Niger, the Central African Republic, and Chad, according to the United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF.
In the period 2005 to 2013, according to UNICEF, 29 percent of girls in Bangladesh married before the age of 15 and 65 percent married before the age of 18.
Child marriage around the world is associated with many harmful consequences, including health dangers associated with early pregnancy, lower educational achievement for girls who marry earlier, a higher incidence of spousal violence, and an increased likelihood of poverty.
Research shows that globally girls aged 10-14 are five times more likely to die during delivery than mothers aged 20-24; girls aged 15-19 are still twice as likely to die during delivery than women aged 20-24.
The link between lack of or poor education and child marriage is borne out by research finding that in Bangladesh women with primary, secondary, and higher education, compared to women with no formal education, were respectively 24 percent, 72 percent, and 94 percent less likely to marry at a young age.
A study across 7 countries found that girls who married before the age of 15 were more likely to experience spousal abuse than women who married after the age of 25. Global data shows that girls from the poorest 20 percent of families are twice as likely to marry before 18 as girls whose families are among the richest 20 percent.
Bangladesh’s success in achieving some development goals begs the question why the country’s rate of child marriage remains so high. The HRW report aims to help answer that question and suggest ways in which Bangladesh’s government can apply effective strategies to achieve comparable success in reducing child marriage.
In Bangladesh there are several factors driving the high rate of child marriage. Gender discrimination feeds social attitudes and customs that harm girls at every stage of their lives and fuel the country’s extremely high rate of child marriage.
Desperate poverty remains a daily reality for many families in Bangladesh, and many parents see child marriage as their best option to safeguard the future of a daughter they feel they can neither feed nor educate nor protect.
Bangladesh’s status as one of the countries in the world most affected by natural disasters and climate change adds an additional element of hardship to many families, especially those living in the most marginal and disaster-affected parts of the country.
Bangladesh’s government has responded to the growing attention to the harms linked to child marriage by promising swift action. At the July 2014 Girl Summit in London, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina pledged to take steps to reduce child marriage in Bangladesh and to ultimately end it by 2041. She committed, by 2021, to end marriage for girls under 15 and reduce by more than one-third the number of girls between the ages of 15 and 18 who marry.
As part of this effort, she pledged that her government would revise Bangladesh’s law which prohibits child marriage, the Child Marriage Restraint Act (CMRA), before 2015, develop a national plan of action on child marriage by the end of 2014, and take other steps to change social norms and engage civil society in the fight against child marriage.
Sheikh Hasina’s efforts to follow through on the commitments she made at the Girl Summit had been marred by delay. One reason for this was a debacle over a proposal to revise the CMRA by changing the age of marriage in Bangladesh to 16 years old for girls and 18 years old for boys. This proposal was vigorously opposed by civil society activists in Bangladesh, as well as international experts.
HRW interviewed 114 people for its report in late 2014. The majority of those interviewed were girls and women who experienced child marriage first-hand. Their experiences highlight some successes in reducing child marriage in Bangladesh, but also many areas where the Bangladesh government can and should do more.
The legal age of marriage in Bangladesh is currently 18 for women and 21 for men. Bangladesh’s Child Marriage Restraint Act (CMRA), first passed in 1929 and subsequently amended several times, makes it a criminal offense to marry or facilitate the marriage of a girl under 18 or a man or boy under 21, but the law has rarely been enforced and is widely ignored.
When asked about how they had made decisions about when their daughters should marry, families interviewed for this report talked again and again about poverty. Girls described parents deciding to marry them off simply because the family was going hungry. Many families also linked poverty, education, and child marriage, saying that they arranged a marriage for their daughter because they were too poor to keep her in school. Many of the families interviewed are so poor that even the smallest expense associated with school, for example, exam fees which may be as little as US$0.13, is unaffordable.
Social norms and gender discrimination lead parents to view their sons as future economic providers and their daughters as burdens who eventually leave for their marital home—meaning that families are more likely to pull their daughters from school first when money is short.
One of the major factors pushing these families into such desperate poverty is natural disasters. Bangladesh’s extreme vulnerability to natural disasters, exacerbated by climate change and combined with its large population, means that for many poor families their livelihoods, homes, and land are under threat from flooding, river erosion, cyclones, and other disasters.
Some families interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they had made decisions about marriage for reasons directly related to natural disasters—some, for example, rushed to marry off a daughter in anticipation of losing their home to river erosion. Other families described natural disasters as a recurring stress factor, taking food from the family’s mouth and making child marriage seem like the best option for a girl and the family.
Harassment and intimidation also played a major role in driving child marriage. Unmarried adolescent girls often face unwanted advances and threats, including the threat of abduction from suitors, and parents, feeling unable to protect their daughters and with no prospect of help from police or local authorities, see marriage as a solution.
Families are also influenced by social pressures from neighbors in communities where the onset of puberty in a girl is seen as a signal that it is time for her to marry. The widespread practice of girls’ families paying dowry to her groom creates additional pressure, as dowry tends to be lower and even avoidable for the youngest of brides.
Boys are also the victims of child marriage in Bangladesh, though it is estimated that the rate of child marriage is 11 times higher for girls than boys.
Human Rights Watch’s research shows that local officials routinely take bribes to provide false birth certificates in order to facilitate child marriages. The government has taken important strides in facilitating access to education by banning primary level school fees. However, other costs associated with attending school mean that education remains out of reach for too many children, and for girls the consequence of lack of access to education can be child marriage.
Government agencies providing assistance to families in poverty or affected by disasters should be more directly involved in preventing child marriage.
Bangladesh’s law on child marriage should not only be reformed, but even more importantly, it should be fully enforced.
In many of the villages Human Rights Watch visited in the course of researching this report, child marriage is not only socially acceptable but also expected. As long as the government looks the other way, or even facilitates child marriage, for example, when local government officials provide forged birth certificates, marrying off young daughters will be a survival strategy for parents who feel unable to care for their children or fear the consequences of strong social stigma against unmarried girls.
The stories in this report explain the hard choices families face, and the ways in which the government is failing to prevent child marriage.
(The featured image at the top shows Bangladeshi girls protesting against law allowing child marriage)