The Ministry of Women and Children Affairs is planning to form an assessment committee in every upazila of the country to confirm if the special provision of the Child Marriage Restraint Act is being implementing as intended.
Ministry sources confirmed that a provision for forming the upazila-level committees has already been included in the draft of Child Marriage Restraint Policy, 2017.
The legislation passed by parliament on February 27, 2017 included a “special circumstances” provision allowing marriages of underage children if it served their “best interests”. It immediately drew criticism from rights groups.
Additional Secretary of the ministry, Mizanur Rahman, told the Dhaka Tribune that a ministerial-level meeting for discussing the policy in detail was held on Tuesday.
“The policy has not yet been finalized, but secretaries of different ministries have given their observation on the policy during the meeting,” he said. “The policy will be sent to the Cabinet Division after implementing the observations.”
The draft is mostly focused on forming a structural process with monitoring accountability in each step to help curb the practice of child marriage.
According to the draft policy, a total of five committees will be formed.
Four monitoring committees will be based on the local government level, and the monitoring level will follow the hierarchy from union level to national level. The other committee would act as an assessment body in every upazila.
The committees will be headed by Upazila Nirbahi [executive] Officers (UNOs), who will assess whether an application for marriage of an underage girl is necessary in her greater interest.
Each committee will have at least eight members to assess whether a marriage is taking place forcibly or as a result of rape.
The committee will also make checks to ascertain if any rape case related to an underage bride has been filed or is already under trial.
The assessment committee will be given the freedom to start the assessment process within seven days of receiving an application, and will settle the matter within 60 days.
However, according to the draft, a court concerned would only allow a child marriage if the committee assessment report and the statement of the child bride’s parents were found to be satisfactory.
Besides, if a child marriage is organized under the special provision without permission from a court, that would also come under trial. The UNO or the OC of the local police station would file the case after investigating the matter.
The policy also gave mobile courts the jurisdiction to stop child marriages if needed.
However, the policy did not mention the role of local lawmakers in the process, or whether local MPs will be held accountable for child marriage.
On October 30, 2017, the High Court issued a rule after taking into cognizance a recent media report that the elected representatives should be held liable for child marriages organized in their constituencies.
The Dhaka Tribune could not reach State Minister for Women and Children Affairs Meher Afroz Chumki for comments on the matter.
Responding to a query about the draft policy and also the possible assessment committee, Advocate Salma Ali, who is also the petitioner in Supreme Court against the special provision, said she has not been informed about the formation of the policy.
“However, formulating this policy is a good sign that the government is willing to prevent child marriage but the policy should reflect the two rules issued by high court,” she said.
“The best course of action is to omit the special provision from the Child Marriage Restraint Act because the longer this provision exists, the number of child marriages will increase.”