Opposing the cabinet’s decision to reduce the minimum age for marriage to 16 years for girls from the existing 18 years, a parliamentary watchdog yesterday observed that the minimum age should be hiked to 20 years.
Discussing the issue of child marriage at a meeting in the parliament building, most of the members of the 10-strong Parliamentary Standing Committee on Women and Children Affairs criticised the government’s decision, but refrained from making any recommendations.
The standing committee members also decided to meet Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to discuss the issue.
State Minister for Women and Children Affairs Meher Afroz Chumki did not attend the meeting, which saw committee members Md Mozammel Hossain, Nasrin Jahan Ratna, Monowara Begum and Reefat Amin in attendance.
Reefat Amin first raised the objection when Rebecca Momin, the committee chair, talked in favour of lowering the age limit while discussing the growth of girls and their addiction to social media.
“The marriage age should be 20 years; at least it can be 18 years. But 16 years is not acceptable,” Reefat told the Dhaka Tribune, referring to her stand in the meeting.
She also said other members supported her.
“Yes, some members raised the issue and objected to reducing the minimum age to 16 years for girls. Most of the members are in favour of 18 years. So, we have decided to meet the prime minister to learn more about the government’s decision,” Rebecca, the committee chair, said.
“Then we will make recommendations in this regard,” she told the Dhaka Tribune.
However, Monowara Begum, another committee member, is in favour of the decision.
“The marriage age should be 16 years. In many cases, the girls elope, and then their guardians file cases, resulting in huge false cases. So, it should be 16 years,” she told the Dhaka Tribune.
Addressing the Girls’ Summit 2014 in London in July, the prime minister vowed to reduce the child marriage rate in the country from the existing rate of 66%.
To uphold that commitment, the cabinet decided, in principle, to reduce the minimum age for marriage to 16 years for females and to 18 years for males.
Child marriage is one of the main reasons behind maternal and child mortality in the country, and it stands in the way of achieving the Millennium Development Goals of reducing child and maternal deaths.
The recommendations by the parliamentary watchdog are not mandatory for the ministry to follow. But constructive suggestions put the executive under pressure to abide its recommendations.