Islamists like Hifazat-e Islam will feel encouraged if Bangladesh lowers marriage age for girls, warns NHRC chief

National Human Rights Commission Chairman Mizanur Rahman has voiced his opposition to plan to lower the legal age of marriage for girls, warning the government that it will encourage religious fanatics.

Published : 29 June 2015, 10:20 PM
Updated : 29 June 2015, 10:20 PM

He advised the prime minister not to act on the ‘dishonest advice’ of her advisers and bureaucrats.

He was speaking at discussion in Dhaka on Monday.

The Samajik Pratirodh Committee, a forum of 69 organisations working on women, human rights and development, organised the meet.

“The bureaucrats and advisers surrounding the prime minister gave her the bad advice of changing the age of girls’ marriage,” he said.

“Lowering the age limit will only encourage Hifazat-e Islam.”

A cabinet meeting in 2013 asked whether the legal age for marriage could be lowered from the existing 18, considering 'social realities'.

Rights activists and development workers scoffed at the idea.

State Minister for Women and Children Affairs Meher Afroz Chumki said at a programme that the government had not decided to reduce the marriage age.

NHRC chief Rahman alleged the government was playing hide and seek on the issue and asked it to come out clear on the issue.

“Lowering the age for (girls’) marriage from 18 to 16, by amending the law, will go against all achievements,” he said.

“The State will take a step backwards.”

Rahman also demanded changing the name of the Child Marriage Prevention Act to Child Marriage Prohibition Act.

The speakers at the meeting said those below 18 were children, according to UN convention, and so, marriage under 18 would be considered as child marriage.

Bangladesh Mahila Parishad President Ayesha Khanam moderated the discussion.

The decision of lowering the age would be suicidal, Khanam, also the president of Samajik Pratirodh Committee, said.

Bangladesh National Women Lawyers’ Association (BNWLA) Executive Director Salma Ali said, “The government has no scope to lower the marriage age by going against all international agreements and conventions.”

She said if the marriage age was lowered, the government would be guilty of creating the scope for ‘marital rape’.

At the meeting, the human rights commission chief blamed people’s ‘lack of security’ for the child marriage in Bangladesh.

He urged the government to take steps for resolving security issues of the people.

“Many think in the present reality that marrying the girls off early is safe,” he said.

“It is the State which is responsible if any guardians marry their girl child off due to lack of security.”