More than two million (2,020,295) marriages took place in Bangladesh in 2015, according to the Bureau of Statistics, but Law Ministry says it has records for only 721,142 of them.
These numbers were revealed at a meeting in the Prime Minister’s Office last month, where policymakers initiated an attempt to enlist all marriage officiants who are not licenced by the government.
The Dhaka Tribune obtained documents from this December 11 meeting of the PMO's Governance Innovation Unit, led by prime minister's International Affairs Adviser Gowher Rizvi.
During the meeting, 58 instructions were given to several ministries including Cabinet Division, Home Ministry, Finance Ministry and Ministry of Women and Child Affairs to sort out the issue.
The Muslim Marriage and Divorce (Registration) Act 1974 allows for marriages to be officiated by anyone, but then the bride and groom must register the marriage within 30 days with a licenced nikah registrar.
The Cabinet Division was instructed to direct district administrations to make a database of people who officiate marriages but are not authorised to do so.
Local authorities were also instructed to provide training to these unregistered officiants.
The Law Ministry was asked to investigate why people would not go to licenced registrars for their marriage.
State Minister of Women and Child Affairs Meher Afroze Chumki told the Dhaka Tribune the decision was taken to bring transparency to the procedure and to make officiants more accountable for their work.
Supreme Court lawyer and human rights Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua said the laws clearly stipulated that a marriage registrar had to be licenced by the Law Ministry.
“Someone who is not licenced cannot register a marriage. The government could instruct these people to be registered properly,” he said.