Bangladesh: child marriage remains a major issue

NEWS. - At the Girl Summit in London in July 2014, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed her determination to end child marriage: she had planned to put an end to marriage for children under 15 years old in the country by 2021 as well as end under 18 child marriage by 2041. Unfortunately, this determination was not shown for long as the Prime Minister now wants to maintain a lower age to marriage in Bangladesh. This change of heart seems to undermine the positive steps that were taken before.

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In Bangladesh, there still remains an incredibly high rate of child marriage. According to UNICEF, the country has the fourth highest rate of child marriage in the world, after Niger, the Central African Republic and Chad. 29 percent of girls get married by the age of 15 and 65 percent at age 18, an age when they should be graduating from high school. Unfortunately these terrible numbers don’t stop there, with even 2 percent of girls married at age 11.

Lower the age of marriage

Although the Prime Minister had promise to take action in reducing child marriage, the government has now recently suggested a new legislation to lower the age of marriage of girls from 18 to 16 years old. In the public eye, the government maintains that the age will not be lowered after many activists have protested. But behind closed doors, things are not the same: according to Human Rights Watch, the government is determined to move ahead with various proposals permitting at least some marriages under 18. It wants to suggest a provision allowing girls from age 16 to marry under undefined ‘special circumstances’. This suggestion could be the start of a very slippery slope: by allowing some parents’ to give their consent for their 16 year old girls to get married, it will in fact determined the legal age for girls to get married at 16, since the families of young girls will consider that the government gives them its blessings for these unions. Human Rights Watch claims that this is definitely not the way to end child marriage, as it opens the door to more abuses: a legal provision such as this one will allow people to take advantage of it. These recent decisions clash with the country’s success in achieving some important developments in the poverty area with an impressive poverty reduction from 1991 to 2010 as well as major improvements in the area of women’s rights and gender parity.

Causes and issues of young marriage

They are many causes in the country that increase child marriage, one of them being extreme poverty which remains a sad reality for many families. Consequentially, parents consider child marriage as the best option for their child’s future, as they believe it to be the only way to offer their girls a way out of their precarious situation, since they can neither afford to feed or educate them. Natural disasters are also a cause that encourages child marriage: the fact that these disasters are really common in Bangladesh, adds another kind of hardship on many families, especially those living on the most marginal parts of the country. Families that have to live under threat from flooding, river erosion and other disasters believe that marrying their kids will allow them to have access to better life conditions.
The efforts to focus on the fight against child marriage, efforts that the Prime Minister mentioned in 2014, have been slowly swept aside and seem to be delayed or even forgotten about. No adequate action seems to have actively been taken by the government. It is important that things change because child marriage has indeed many terrible consequences for children involved, such as health dangers associated with early pregnancy, lower educational achievement for girls who marry very young as well as higher incidence of spousal violence.

International law prohibits gender discrimination and dictates that the appropriate age of marriage is both 18, both for men and women. Setting a higher age for men reinforces social norms about older men marrying young girls. Bangladesh is compelled under international law to protect its people’s rights to have access to an education free from physical and sexual violence. Human Rights Watch has insisted on the fact that it supports the prior commitments of the government to end child marriage and that it needs to make the fight against child marriage a priority as well as back it up with effective legislation, policies and programs.

Sources :

BARR, Heather (2015). Dispatches : Going Backwards on Child Marriage in Bangladesh. October 21st 2015. IN: Human Rights Watch (Online). http://www.hrw.org/news/2015/10/21/dispatches-going-backwards-child-marriage-bangladesh Accessed on October 22 2015.

The Daily Star (2015). 18 to Stay Minimum Marriage Age for Girls. September 20th 2015. IN: The Daily Star (online). http://www.thedailystar.net/backpage/18-stay-minimum-marriage-age-girls-145843 Accessed on October 22nd 2015.

HRW (2015). Marry Before Your House is Swept Away. June 9th 2015. IN: HRW(Online). https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/06/09/marry-your-house-swept-away/child-marriage-bangladesh Accessed on October 22nd 2015.

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