In December 2016, The Bangladeshi Parliament discussed the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2016, a bill which obstensibly includes a special provision allowing child marriage at any age in “special cases,” such as “accidental” or “illegal” pregnancy, or where a marriage would protect a girl’s “honor.”
Currently, the legal minimum age of marriage in Bangladesh is 18 for women, and 21 for men, but the bill would reportedly provide no minimum age.
The provision could support legitimizing statutory rape and encourage the practice of child marriage in a country with one of the highest child marriage rates in the world. According to UNICEF, 52% of girls in Bangladesh are married by the age of 18, and 18% by the age of 15.
Child marriage has technically been illegal in Bangladesh since the adoption of the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929. The law, however, is poorly enforced and the weak punishment – up to one month in jail and/or a fine of up to 1,000 Taka (US$13) – rarely acts as a deterrent.
As such, The National Girl Child Advocacy Forum (NGCAF), which advocates for girl’s rights and of which The Hunger Project is a founding member, mobilized people to join a grand procession in Dhaka to demand the cancellation of a special clause lowering the marriage age in the proposed act.
While some components of the new proposed law, such as those offering harsher punishments and better law enforcement, are a step in the right direction, allowing marriage under the age of 18 in “special cases,” is a step backward for Bangladesh.
The Hunger Project is a strong advocate for girl child rights and the end of child marriage in Bangladesh. Through The Hunger Project-Bangladesh’s involvement with NGCAF, we work with like-minded organizations to reform relevant laws and policies for women and girls by highlighting child marriages as one of the major obstructions to Bangladesh’s development to a wide variety of different stakeholders. Each year, The Hunger Project also celebrates National Girl Child Day, a national strategy that seeks to improve the status of and end discrimination against girls in Bangladeshi society.
The Hunger Project is excited to be part of Her Choice—an alliance of organizations that are working to halt child marriage in 11 countries including Bangladesh, with the long-term goal of supporting the creation of child marriage-free communities in which girls and young women are free to decide if, when and whom to marry.
We must fight the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2016. Marriage for girls under the age of 18 should not happen – even in “special cases.”
On January 18, 2017, more than 2,000 people, many of them eminent members of society, participated in a march through Dhaka against the lowering of age limits in the proposed Child Marriage Act—among them, Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar, Country Director of The Hunger Project-Bangladesh, and Naima Akter Joly, Secretary of NGCAF, who made speeches.
In support for the movement fighting the clause to lower the acceptable age of child marriage, The Hunger Project-Bangladesh and NGCAP jointly organized human chains across 14 districts in Bangladesh. In spite of government restrictions in some regions, people from all segments of society, including trained Hunger Project volunteers, participated in these human chains with banners and slogans demanding the withdrawal of the age-changing provision to the Child Marriage Act.