“No decision has been taken yet. We are discussing it,” Zahid Maleque said on Thursday, “the prime minister is facing pressure from the rural areas to reduce the age (of marriage)”.
‘Very wrong step’
His comment surprised Dr Ishtiaq Mannan, Chief of Party (MCHIP) at Save the Children, who was present during his speech.
“It’s a very wrong step,” he told bdnews24.com in immediate reaction.
“Even putting it on the table for discussion will send a wrong message across Bangladesh as well as throughout the world,” he said.
Dr Mannan said apart from health hazards, early marriage would create “larger social insecurity”.
“Boys and girls will not be mentally prepared for the marriage if they are married off at an early age. So it can create disharmony in the family resulting in violence and divorce,” he said.
“I am surprised how it can be put on the table for discussion,” he said.
“Early marriage contributes significantly to maternal mortality and disability. Their babies are often born premature and live with lifelong malnutrition,” he said.
He said the government could take different steps to ensure social security if it found eloping was a big problem.
“It needs a social system, awareness that will prevent them and also proper implementation of law so that none can marry before their legal age.”
Health Secretary M Niaz Uddin Miah, however, said it was not their proposal. The Ministry of Women and Children Affairs made the proposal, he said during his speech at the programme.
“It’s a concern for us. We have to think about it.”
“We have to sit together with the gynaecologists and development partners and organise a dialogue and send a recommendation whether the age should be 16 or 18,” he said.