The controversial “special circumstances” provision in the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017 has been challenged by many activists, lawyers, and civilians alike.
While some are categorically opposed to child marriage, even those who understand the expediency of the provision are concerned about the scope for misuse.
As a result, the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs announced that it will take action to closely monitor cases that fall under the “special circumstances” provision and ensure that the law is not being abused.
The idea is to involve local governments in the process, by forming supervisory and deliberative committees to assess every proposal for child marriage under the special provision. No instance of child marriage will be considered lawful without prior permission from the courts, which, in turn, will only allow the marriage if the committee approves.
Proponents of the special provision consistently defended it for its usefulness in certain cases.
Using the example of pregnant underage girls and the stigma that surrounds children of unmarried or single mothers, they argued for protecting the child’s interest -- which is not a sound argument.
Sadly, Bangladesh is still woefully backward in that respect -- from employers hesitating to hire single mothers to schools refusing to enroll their children.
The way forward is to legislate against such discriminatory practices, rather than allowing child marriage, even in special cases.
Many countries have such legislation to protect women and children from discrimination, and over time, societal attitudes do adjust to changing norms.
We hope that that will be the case in Bangladesh.