‘Do not allow child marriage in special cases’ - Civil society rally in Bangladesh to prevent backwards steps.
Despite signs of progress, UNICEF states in its latest report that Bangladesh continues to have one of the highest child marriage rates worldwide and the highest rate of marriage involving girls under 15. 52% of girls are married by their 18th birthday, and 18% by the age of 15.
Children on the Edge work with our local partners MUKTI in Cox’s Bazar, who over the past five years have intervened in about 20 child marriage cases in the communities where they work. In almost all these instances, through regular parents meetings and community engagement, we have been able to support the prevention of child marriages.
Bimal from MUKTI describes how “It is difficult to stop these cases from coming up as their cause is often rooted in deep-seated poverty, rather than a lack of education. Until the issues of poverty are addressed, child marriage will continue to be a threat for this generation.”
With poverty as a driver, it is a continuing challenge to encourage normative change where age of marriage is concerned. Reshmi is 14 years old and lives in Kutubdiapara slum. She says "I was behind in school but my relatives said it was not important, my neighbours said that it won’t help me to marry. One day, my mother told me I don’t need to go to school because I am now older. I got very upset and stopped regularly attending school, but a few days later I was surprised when she asked me if I wanted to read more.
It turned out she had already arranged my marriage, but that week had gone to a parents meeting with the MUKTI school. They had told her about child marriage and the risks it has for my body and my children. My mother changed her mind, she said “I cannot destroy my daughter’s life. There are so many families who don’t think like me, but I don’t care”. Now I am going to school again and not afraid of being married without my knowledge”.
In this climate it is an uphill struggle to bring such change, and the work of our partners could be further jeopardised by a potential backward step from the Bangladeshi Parliament. In the coming weeks, Parliament will be considering their Child Marriage Restraint Act 2016 which includes a special provision allowing marriage, with parental consent and judicial consent, for girls under 18 in ‘special cases’ or for ‘the greater good of the adolescent’.
The provision does not define a minimum age of marriage, what these special cases are or what the ‘greater good’ is, leaving these areas open to interpretation and abuse. Children on the Edge are part of the Girls Not Brides Network who argue that ‘…if the provision is included in the final act it would mark a step backwards for a country which has made significant strides towards ending child marriage over recent years’. It has also been argued by those working against child marriage both in Bangladesh and in the UK that, if the UK is going to the lead the way on this issue, then it too needs to adjust the double standards in its own laws.
On the 17th January, civil society organisations in Bangladesh rallied at the Central Shahid Minar, to protest against the inclusion of this special provision. A large number of development workers, social activists, doctors, lawyers, cultural activists, teachers, youth, girls and parents all took part to make the case.
Rachel Bentley, International Director at Children on the Edge says “Our partners work hand in hand with government organisations to address child marriage through their schools. They need the support of a firm legislative framework, prohibiting exceptions in order to continue protecting young women and girls in their communities”.
Find out more about the Child Marriage Restraint Act
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