The bill drew criticism from various quarters for allowing child marriage in the name of 'special cases'
The government has passed a controversial law allowing marriages of underage girls and boys in ‘special cases’, ignoring repeated calls of the rights groups.
The ‘Child Marriage Restraint Bill 2017’ puts boys below 21 years of age and girls below 18 years in the underage category. Any marriage involving one or both parties below the legal age will be considered ‘child marriage’, reports UNB.
However, marriages involving underage brides or grooms will not be considered an offence if they take place with the consent of the court and the guardians in “special contexts” serving the “best interest” of the underage female, the law says.
Bangladesh has one of the highest child marriage rates in the world – the highest in Asia. Over half (52%) of Bangladeshi girls get married before 18 and almost one-fifth (18%) are married off before 15.
Parliament passed the bill by a voice vote on Monday after State Minister for Women and Children’s Affairs Meher Afroze Chumki tabled it.
On December 8 last year, Chumki placed the bill in Parliament with a provision for underage marriages in ‘special cases’. With the passage of the bill in the House, the existing Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 will be abolished.
The Cabinet on November 24 approved the bill that drew criticism from various quarters, especially rights groups. Critics say the law will only “encourage” child marriages rather than curb the practice. The Human Rights Watch in December criticised Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for going back on her promise to end child marriages.
Hasina had hit back at the critics, saying the law was framed “considering the reality of our society”.
She criticised those who questioned the ‘special provision’. “They are far away from reality,” she had said. “A law can never be rigid, there must have an alternative in special cases particularly in case of unexpected pregnancy of any girl under 18. Otherwise, it may be disastrous for the society.”
Her son and ICT Affairs Adviser Sajeeb Wazed Joy, too, defended the government’s decision, noting that several US states permit marriages of girls as young as 12.
Punishment for child marriages
According to the bill placed by State Minister Chumki, the Mobile Court Act 2009 can be exercised in case of child marriage as defined in the law.
Local government representatives, including upazila nirbahi officer, executive magistrate, upazila women affairs official, upazila social service officer, upazila primary or secondary education officer, officer-in-charge of the police station concerned can take necessary measures and legal actions to stop child marriage upon receiving written or verbal complaint.
The court can stop child marriage. The punishment for breaching the law is maximum six months’ imprisonment or not more than Tk10,000 fine or both.
Apart from special cases, if a man or a woman marries any child, they can face maximum two years imprisonment or not more than Tk100,000 fine or both.
Section 7 (2) of the law says, any underage boy and girl will have to undergo a detention of 30 days or pay Tk50,000 as fine or both for child marriage.
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Guardians concerned or others associated with child marriage can get six months to two years’ jail terms or Tk50,000 fine or both. Punishment for officiating such marriage is six months to two years’ jail or Tk50,000 fine or both.
Besides, the licence of a marriage registrar can be revoked for registering child marriage. He may also be sentenced to maximum two years imprisonment or fined Tk50,000 or both.
Birth certificates, national identity cards, passports and academic examination certificates will be considered as legal documents for verifying the age of the bride and the groom.