PM Hasina defends provision allowing child marriage in ‘special circumstances’

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has taken issue with critics of the draft Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2016 that allows marriage of underage girls in ‘special circumstances’.

Published : 7 Dec 2016, 04:07 PM
Updated : 7 Dec 2016, 04:36 PM

“They (the critics) know nothing about Bangladesh’s social system,” she said in Parliament on Wednesday in response to a question from an MP.

The prime minister also questioned the motive of the criticism over the proposed law.

“They have less responsibility to society as they only earn some money by working in some NGOs; they do not take responsibility,” Sheikh Hasina said.

She said her government had approved the draft Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2016 considering the ‘realities’ of society.

Explaining ‘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 conducted? 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.

The prime minister also argued that in many western countries there were many under-aged mothers who did not face any problems admitting their children to school.

“Those in the western world have no problem admitting children to schools without naming the fathers. But what will happen in our country where it is a must to mention the names of both the father and the mother of a child?” she asked.

“It is my government’s duty to make a place for such babies. And that’s why we have added the special provision,” she added.

She said critics could raise their voices against the law because they ‘did not think about such situations’.

“There is nothing to be concerned about on the issue of child marriage. You’ll have to consider our socio-economic conditions first,” she said while responding to criticisms of the measure.

In the draft law, approved by the Cabinet on Nov 24, the age of marriage for men was fixed at 21 and for women at 18. But the law will provide for marriage of minor girls in ‘special circumstances’, after they have secured consent from court and parents.

Local and international rights organisations have expressed their concerns that the law may be abused or may encourage child marriage instead of preventing it.

“Those who are speaking about the matter now have never lived in villages. They have no idea what the rural social system is like. You can’t get any knowledge by only visiting villages and listening to the rural people,” Hasina said.

The prime minister said that “no law can be rigid”.

“There must be provisions to deal with special or unwanted situations in every law. Otherwise society will face disaster,” she said.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher