Activists have been widely critical of the 2016 Act, as they believe it fails to address the problem of child marriage. Many believe that the act would in fact increase incidences of child marriage rather than reduce it.
One such critic was human rights activist Sultana Kamal, who said that the act would encourage child marriage rather than stop it.
“The provision allowing child marriage in special cases will not help decrease child marriage," Sultana said on Friday at a press conference organised by Amrai Pari Bangladesh at the National Press Club.
"The reason given as to protect the honour of a girl child will create special causes for child marriages in spite of preventing it. Loopholes in this act will not protect woman's rights as human beings.”
Gender expert Fawzia Khondker Eva also stressed that loopholes in the new act would be detrimental to efforts preventing child marriage.
“This is a completely contradictory law and will risk the lives of our girl children in the country,” she said.
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Dhaka University journalism professor Geeti Ara Nasrin highlighted the dangerous precedent that the approval of such an act may lead to.
“If child marriage increases then violence against women will also increase,” Geeti said.
Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, despite a three-decade-old law banning marriage for girls under the age of 18. In September 2014, measures were proposed to lower the marritable age for girls from 18 to 16 years.
On November 24, the cabinet approved a draft of the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2016, chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at her office. According to the proposed law, anyone under 18 years of age in general will be considered a child.
However, in cases of marriage, any male under the age of 21 and female under the age of 18 will be considered minors.
The new draft legislation also includes a provision allowing child marriage in special cases, such as if a girl becomes pregnant accidentally or illegally, where a marriage will be allowed to protect her "honour".
The activists urged the government to review the clause.