Legal marriage age for girls proposed at 16 years under ‘special circumstances’

The women and children affairs ministry has proposed keeping the legal marriage age for girls at 18 years but lowering it to 16 years under ‘special circumstances’.

Published : 18 Oct 2015, 06:09 PM
Updated : 18 Oct 2015, 06:22 PM

State Minister Meher Afroze Chumki has said her ministry has drafted a law and sent it to the law ministry for vetting.

The draft of the Child Marriage Prevention Act 2014 has a sub-section that proposes considering the legal marriage age for girls at 16 years under ‘special circumstances’.

Explaining the ‘special circumstances’, the minister told an interactive meeting in Dhaka on Sunday that the government was thinking about keeping the legal marriage age for girls at 16 years in cases when a girl elopes with a man and refuses to return or becomes pregnant before marriage.

A platform of organisations to prevent oppression by families organised the meeting titled ‘Child Marriage: Reviewing the Situation’.

When the government said it was planning to lower the legal marriage age for girls a year ago, it was met with howls of protests by the women rights organisations.

Ayesha Khanam

Bangladesh Mohila Parishad chief Ayesha Khanam had told another meeting attended by Chumki that lowering the minimum legal age for girls to marry would not be accepted and all conditions on this would have to be scrapped.

After that meeting in July, reporters asked the state minister if there would be any condition along with the provision to keep the minimum age for girls to marry at 18 years in the law.

“I am telling you to write only that the legal marriage age for girls will be kept at 18 years. Please do not write anything more,” Chumki replied.

Meher Afroze Chumki

On Sunday, she said her ministry proposed to stipulate the condition in the draft law.

She said the final decision would be taken after consulting the related organisations and people.

“The minimum age for girls to marry will not be changed in any way in the Child Marriage Prevention Act,” she said.

The minister told the meeting that it would not be possible to stop child marriage by fixing a minimum legal age.

It can be done by educating girls, she observed.

“The legal marriage for girls is 13 years in Iran. But no women get married before 19 in that country,” she said.

Sultana Kamal, chief of the platform that organised the meeting, asked for Chumki’s assurance to keep the minimum age for girls to marry at 18 years.

According to a BRAC research, child marriage rate in Bangladesh is 65 percent, highest in South Asia and fourth highest in the world.

Every two of three marriages in Bangladesh involves a bride aged under 18 years. Eighty percent of such marriages take place in poor families.

Social Welfare Secretary Tariqul Islam said the main reason behind child marriage was dropping out of school.

“The girls that dropped out of class five to eight are married off. But those continuing their studies do not experience child marriage,” he said.

“So there should be more budgetary allocation in social safety sector to keep girls in their studies; especially to cut the rate of dropouts,” he added.