According to the Human Rights Watch, recent media reports indicate that the prime minister’s cabinet is considering a revision to the marriage age law to make 16 the minimum age of marriage for girls. The minimum age for men would be 18.
This revision would undermine stated government aims to reduce child marriage among girls. At the July 2014 Girl Summit in London, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina stated that she would take steps to reduce and ultimately end child marriage in Bangladesh. In addition, she pledged that by 2021 she would stop child marriage for girls under age 15 and reduce more than one-third of the number of girls between age 15 and 18 who marry. The government ultimately pledged to end all child marriage by 2041 and to develop a national plan before 2015 to change societal norms in the hopes of putting a stop to child marriages.
According to the United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF, Bangladesh has the second highest rate of child marriage in the world, second to Niger. About 74 percent of Bangladeshi women currently aged 20 to 49 were married or in a union before the age of 18, despite a minimum legal marriage age for women of 18.
Lowering the minimum age of marriage for girls to 16 is not only a “ terrible step in the wrong direction” since child marriage is already off the charts as stated by Lisel Gerntholtz, women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch, but is also furthering gender discrimination. International law prohibits gender discrimination, requiring that the age of marriage should be the same for both men and women.
International standards set the minimum age of marriage at 18 for both sexes. By lowering the marriage age for girls, Bangladesh would be violating the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the state ratified in 1990. In 2009 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child strongly recommended that Bangladesh take necessary measures to define the child as any person below the age of 18 years old in accordance with the Convention.
The 1929 Child Marriage Restraint Act (CMRA) made it a criminal offense to marry, or facilitate the marriage of, a girl under 18 or a man or boy under the age of 21. However, according to Human Rights Watch this law has rarely been enforced as many of its provisions are outdated.
The government has been working with UNICEF to begin to develop a national plan to end child marriage. Bangladesh has taken other measures to stop child marriage such as expanding birth registration, the use of national identification cards, and girls’ access to education through stipend programs. However, there are still significant gaps in civil and criminal laws which prevent and punish child marriages and in enforcing existing laws of the past.
The CMRA does not provide any social support in stopping child marriages or in assisting women and girls or men and boys who have been victims to child marriage. The revised CMRA needs to provide measures to increase public awareness of these issues, strengthen access to education for girls, and provide legal assistance to victims of child marriage.
What revisions do you think Bangladesh should make to the CMRA to help victims of child marriage? Do you think that Bangladesh should be able to revise its marriage laws to allow girls as young as 16 to marry? Do you see this as aiding gender discrimination in Bangladesh?
Source: Human Rights Watch, Bangladesh: Don’t Lower Marriage Age