Initially, the law had a provision allowing exceptions to the minimum age for the marriage of women under ‘special circumstances’.
The parliamentary standing committee on women and children affairs ministry later included the option for men too.On Monday, the Child Marriage Restraint Bill 2017 was passed in voice vote to Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017 when State Minister for Women and Children Affairs Meher Afroz Chumki placed it before the MPs.
Before it was pushed through, the corrections proposed by the MPs of the Opposition, the Jatiya Party, were overruled in voice vote.
But, the ‘special circumstances’ and the minimum age applicable under the ‘special provision’ have not been specified in the law.
After the passage of the draft law by the Cabinet, it was said that court will decide the matters.
In response to questions on the issues during Monday’s session, State Minister Chumki said, “No one will get the special provision opportunity on wish only.”
“In case of unwanted incidents, permission of parents or legitimate guardian, and court will be needed. No one will be able to marry (in ‘special circumstance’) without court permission,” she said.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina earlier defended the law, saying the critics “know nothing about Bangladesh’s social system”.
She said her government was making the law considering the ‘realities’ of society.
Explaining the ‘special circumstances’, the prime minister said, “We’ve fixed the minimum age for girls to marry at 18. But 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 the girl could go for marriage with her parents’ consent in such circumstances in order to give the baby ‘legal status’ in society.
In response, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said, “Accidental or unlawful pregnancy suggests the law could lead to a situation where girls who have been raped are forced to marry their rapists.”
According to UNICEF statistics, Bangladesh has the highest percentage of child marriage among Asian countries. About 66 percent of Bangladeshi women are married before the age of 18.
The bill was placed with a request for annulment and reframing of the “Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929”.
Moving the bill in Parliament, Chumki said child marriage is a concern for the entire world, especially the Third World countries.
“Child marriage is no doubt a violation of human rights,” she said.
The minister said the law aims at reducing marriage of girls under 15 to zero by 2021 and cut the rate by two thirds in case of 15-18 age group.
It also aims to free Bangladesh from child marriage by 2041 as promised by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the Girl Summit 2014 in Britain.
The law imposes a sentence of maximum one month in jail or up to Tk 50,000 fines or both for its violations.
Updated On: 2017-02-2