The draft Marriage Restraint Act, 2016 will be discussed in the cabinet meeting shortly, keeping an option of marrying off girls less than 18 years old, said state minister for women and children affairs Meher Afroz Chumki. She said girls can only be married before 18 under ‘special consideration’. This has raised concern among the women and children rights activists saying this would further complicate the issue.
While talking to Prothom Alo over phone, Chumki said to avoid social degeneration, there will be provision of punishment if the act is misused.
She also said the number of child marriages has been reduced significantly through various government policies. When asked about the concerns about misusing the act, the state minister said this issue will be discussed in the cabinet and also in parliament.
On 15 September 2014, the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2014 draft was approved with an increase in penalty and fine. In this draft, the age of a minor was defined as below 21 in the case of boys and below 18 in the case of girls. In the same meeting, the prime minister instructed the law ministry and other concerned to look into whether or not the existing law of 1929 could be considered to set the minimum marriageable age for boys at 18 and for girls at 16.
When this news appeared in the media, it was met with a tirade of protests and criticism. The national human rights commission and various women and human rights organisations placed memorandums with the government and organised demonstrations, urging that such a decision not be taken.
The present draft, however, does not state clearly what factors are to be considered while a girl, who is under 18, is being married off under ‘special consideration’.
Ayesha Khanam, President of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, told Prothom Alo “If the act remains, then it has to be said that we have failed to understand the despicable picture of present day Bangladesh. The logic offered in support of their arguments is lame”.
By signing the UN Convention on Child Rights and other similar conventions, and based on the laws and policies pertaining to children, the government has defined anyone below the age of 18 as a child. But those who want marry off their daughters before 18, will do so misusing this act.
The 10th national parliament of Bangladesh has formed a sub-committee in secretariat with the cooperation of UNFPA to run a project named ‘Strengthening Parliaments Capacity in Integrating Population Issues into Development’. The parliament and UNFPA stated in a leaflet that any girl under 18 is a child and to marry off such a girl is a violation of human rights.
The women and children affairs ministry is running a number of activities under the banner ‘Girls, not Brides’. The prime minister’s office runs another programme under the Governance Innovation Unit (GIU), which raised public awareness and endeavours to prevent child marriage.
National Human Rights Commission chairman Kazi Riazul Huq said “We will not stop our efforts. The act allowing child marriage will not be accepted in Bangladesh in any possible way.”
Updated On: Nov 24, 2016