South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Published in The Prothom Alo on Oct. 18::

In face of controversy, the government has decided to leave the minimum age of marriage as before, 18 for girls and 21 for boys. Also, a mobile court is being introduced for the visible and speedy trial for the crime of child marriage.

At the cabinet meeting on 15 September it had been discussed whether it would be possible to lower the minimum age of marriage to 16 for girls and 18 for boys. The Child Marriage Restraint Act 2014 was also approved. When the matter was reported in the media, the ministry of women and children affairs came under an avalanche of criticism.

In the meantime, the intentional human rights organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) has appealed to the government not to lower the minimum age of marriage. Lowering the age of marriage, they feel, would be a contradiction to the pledge to  bring down the rate of child marriage.

Many quarters pointed out that the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2014 would be contradictory to the Child Policy 2013. The UN Children’s Rights Convention declares that anyone under 18 years of age will be considered a child.

Mahila Parishad and other women and children’s organisations also criticised the proposal, saying that lowering a girl’s minimum age of marriage from 18 to 16 was self-contradictory. On one hand the government was speaking of women’s empowerment and on the other it wanted to lower the age of marriage which would be a regressive step for the country.

State Minister for Women and Children’s Affairs Meher Afroze Chumki tells Prothom Alo, “We are making the decision having taken all things into consideration. We are considering keeping the minimum age of marriage for girls 18 and for boys 21, as before. The law hasn’t been finalised as yet. It will be placed before the cabinet again, if necessary. It will be sent to the law ministry and the parliamentary committee for consideration too. It will be discussed all over.”

The state minister says child marriage is a social problem. And trials are lengthy processes. That is why this law is being included in the mobile court act to ensure speedy trial.

The minutes of the cabinet meeting state that the prevailing law against child marriage is of 1929. The ministry proposed to upgrade the law with an increase in punishment. This act has 23 clauses. The public administration ministry, labour ministry, home ministry, and the law and justice ministry have given their views on all approved of this act.

According to the proposed law, the executive magistrate will pass the sentence and fine. But the family court will decide on breaking the marriage. The mobile court has the authority to sentence a person up till two years of imprisonment. Those who conduct child marriage, those who are involved in the child marriage ceremonies and the bride and groom are all subject to punished. If the guilty is a woman, however, the punishment will be payment of fine, not imprisonment.