Bangladesh relaxes child marriage rules

family law

The Bangladeshi Parliament has passed a controversial bill which relaxes the country’s rules on underage marriage.

On Monday a provision was added to the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 which allows girls under 18 years old and boys under 21 to marry in “special circumstances”. However what these circumstances actually are has not been defined in the updated law.

Prior to the approval of the new regulation, the State Minister for Women and Children Affairs, Meher Afroz Chumki, insisted that nobody would be allowed to marry under these conditions without permission from the courts.

She said:

“No one will get the special provision opportunity on wish only.”

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also defended the amended Act. She insisted that its opponents and critics “know nothing about Bangladesh’s social system” and the attitudes unwed mothers face in the South Asian nation.

Although the minimum age for girls to marry in regular circumstances, “what if any of them becomes pregnant at 12-13 or 14-15 and abortion can’t be done? What will happen to the baby? Will society accept it?” she said.

Non-profit group Human Rights Watch (HRW) was not convinced by the justifications for the law change. In December, the organisation called the proposal “a major step backwards” and said that if teenage pregnancy was considered a special circumstance, “the law could lead to a situation where girls who have been raped are forced to marry their rapists”.

Bangladesh has the highest rate of child marriage in Asia, according to statistics from international children’s organisation UNICEF, although numbers are in decline. In 2000, as many as 65 per cent of girls were married before they turned 18 and 38 per cent did so before their 15th birthday. Since then these rates have fallen to 52 per cent and 18 per cent respectively.

Photo of Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, courtesy of DFID – UK Department for International Development via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

Stowe Family Law Web Team

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1 comment

Andrew - February 28, 2017 at 12:21pm

I wonder how HRW feel about our law which allows marriage at 16 – and in Scotland without parental consent!

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