The recently passed Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017, which allows underage marriage under a special provision, will curb child marriages in Bangladesh by 50% in the next two years, said Meher Afroze Chumki, state minister for women and children affairs.
“There is no way that people can marry off children by manipulating the special provision,” she said at a ministry programme on Wednesday.
Organised to observe International Women's Day, the event took place at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre in Dhaka.
The act was passed at parliament
on February 27 replacing a colonial-era law.
According to the new law, marriage of males under 21 years and females under 18 years is still prohibited.
However, a provision in the law allows marriages of brides under 18 or grooms under 21 in “special contexts” with the consent of the court and the guardians to serve their “best interest.”
Also Read- Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017 to practise no restraint
The new law has drawn flak from rights groups who argue that it will only increase the number child marriage in the country, which already has one of the highest child marriage rates in the world.
But the government defends the law
saying it was formed “considering the reality of our society.”
Chumki said: “Marrying off girls under 18 years and boys under 21 years of age is still a crime. We have formulated a strict law; whoever tries to break the law will be duly punished.”
The special provision was necessary to ensure the children's security, she added.
“Every society has problems. We have to think about the problems in our society. We also need to think about our children's security. But that does not mean you can marry off your underage child.”
Such marriages would only be allowed if the guardians were able to justify their reasons before magistrates or authorities concerned, Chumki said.
However, she did not address the fact that the special provision has not set a minimum age for these marriages.
Read More- UN voices concern over Bangladesh child marriage law
Chris Hunter, country representative of UN Women in Bangladesh who also spoke at the event, said the organisation was concerned regarding the special provision.
“We recognise the government of Bangladesh for its effort to strengthen the legal framework to prevent child marriage, including providing sanction and remedies when such cases take place. In this context, the newly adopted Child Marriage Restraint Act can be positive step forward,” he said.
“However, UN Women, as the organisation mandated to promote gender equality of women everywhere, remains concerned with the special provision in the new act, which allows for marriages of girls under 18 under exceptional circumstances.”
UN Women, Unicef and UNFPA call on all governments around the world to make 18 the minimum age of marriage with no exceptions, he added.
Hunter also said the UN had offered support to the government to develop the rules for the new law to ensure that this special provision is not misused.
The event was also addressed by lawmaker Rebeka Momin and Women and Children Affairs Secretary Nasima Begum, among others.
More to Read- ‘Child Marriage Restraint Act contradicts itself’
'New act will obstruct women empowerment in Bangladesh'
The new Child Marriage Restraint Act is a major obstruction to women empowerment in Bangladesh, speakers said at a Women's Day discussion organised by the Delegation of the European Union to Bangladesh at a hotel in Dhaka on Wednesday.
“Women's freedom of choice will be severely affected by the new legislation,” said Rokeya Kabir, executive director of Bangladesh Nari Pragati Sangha.
She also stressed the importance of equal access to education for both men and women for good governance and sustainable development in the country.
EU Ambassador and Head of EU Delegation Pierre Mayaudon, who hosted the discussion, said gender equality was a must-do for both social justice and smart economics.
“Women's participation in the workforce is essential for sustainable development and economic growth,” he added.
Former information commissioner Dr Sadeka Halim said despite many advancement, women are still lagging behind in many social and political activities.
The speakers also emphasised the necessity of implementing the existing laws to protect women's rights.