A vague new child marriage law in Bangladesh invokes the parental permission loophole setting no minimum age for marriage — an astounding turn of events that has human rights groups up in arms.
Over half of girls (52%) marry before the age of 18 in Bangladesh, and of those girls, 18% are younger than 15.
In spite of protests over the law in Jan., the government’s parliament has approved what is called the “Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017,” which allows girls under 18 to marry with parental consent and a court. The law sets no minimum age for the parental consent clause. It merely states that a marriage may be granted for “special cases” that adhere to the “greater good of the adolescent."
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Bangladesh parliament approved the act in order to protect “girls honor” according to Reuters. The law, however, could drastically set girls back instead of protecting their rights.
Girls in developing countries who marry before 18 are less likely to finish school, have higher rates of early pregnancy, and risks of life-threatening complications from giving birth too young, according to UNICEF.
This law is a “devastating step backward for the fight against child marriage,” according to Human Rights Watch.
Girls Not Brides, collective group of over 700 civil society organizations say the law could legitimize child rape and abuse.
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“We are concerned that this new act could lead to widespread abuse, legitimize statutory rape, allow parents to force their girls to marry their rapists, and further encourage the practice of child marriage in a country with one of the highest child marriage rates in the world," said a statement from Girls Not Brides.
Girls Not Brides is demanding that the government, at the very least, define “special cases” for allowing child marriage to take place. For such an alarming and devastating law to pass in a country with too many girls vulnerable to child marriage, this does not seem too much to ask.
Bangladesh has a history of marrying off girls at young ages. It already has the highest rates of child marriage in Asia, according to United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund. In 2011, the average age of marriage was 16.4 for girls in the country, despite law prohibiting marriage for girls under 18, and boys under 21.
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The new addition of the “Child Marriage Restraint Act” still needs a seal of approval from Abdul Hamid, the president of Bangladesh to be finalized as law.
In the meantime, humanitarian organizations are urging the government to reconsider the law and the detrimental damage it would do in limiting education, increasing health risks for young girls.
In 2017, it feels backwards for a country to be adding new legislation that legitimizes early marriage. More countries are working to close legal child marriage loopholes in the law. In the past year, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique and Gambia have all taken major steps to close legal loopholes in child marriage laws. Tanzania could be next, and Bangladesh could learn a lesson here.