It’s nearly impossible to believe in 2016, but a law that’s currently being proposed in Bangladesh could allow adult men to legally marry children under the age of 18 if the girls are pregnant.

Bangladesh already has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. The new law, which has been touted by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, is being framed as a way to decrease child marriage by increasing fines and prison sentences for adults who marry children, according to the Dhaka Tribune.

But it has a provision for “special cases,” including cases where a girl becomes pregnant accidentally and her parents want to protect her honor. The parental agreement would have to be approved by a court, according to the paper.

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The exception also legalizes marriage in cases where a girl becomes pregnant “illegally,” which could allow a rapist to legally marry his victim if she becomes pregnant, according to Human Rights Watch.

Hasina defended the law as taking into account the reality of life in Bangladesh, where child marriage is common.

“The law has been framed taking the reality of our society into consideration,” Hasina told the state news agency Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha.

She said critics were “far away from reality.”

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“A law can never be rigid, there must have an alternative in special cases particularly in case of unexpected pregnancy of any girl under 18. Otherwise, it may be disastrous for the society,” she said.

More than 50% of girls in Bangladesh marry before the age of 18, according to Human Rights Watch, and 18% of girls marry before they turn 15. Child marriage often leads girls to drop out of school and leads them to become pregnant and give birth when they are still too young to do so safely.

Hasina has promised to try and end child marriage in Bangladesh. She has enacted some policies to help girls and their families avoid early marriage, including providing scholarships available to keep girls in schools, according to the Dhaka Tribune.

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But the new law, which was approved by the parliament in late November, could actually thwart efforts to decrease child marriage, critics said.

“This is a completely contradictory law and will risk the lives of our girl children in the country,” gender rights advocate Fawzia Khondker Eva told the paper.

The legal age for marriage is currently 18 for women and 21 for men in the country.

According to the advocacy group Girls Not Brides, child marriage remains popular in Bangladesh mainly due to deeply embedded cultural and religious beliefs, poverty, and parents’ desire to gain economic and social security for daughters.

Because of its high rates of child marriage, Bangladesh is one of the countries being focused on by a United Nations Population Fund and UNICEF program to end child marriage.

Global Citizen and CHIME FOR CHANGE are also campaigning to end child marriage and change laws around the world that unfairly discriminate against girls and women. Sign the #LeveltheLaw petition and join the fight against child marriage.


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Bangladesh Child Marriage Law Has a Major Loophole That Has Critics Fuming

By Colleen Curry