Bangladesh child marriage: New law will ‘reduce minimum marital age to zero’

Campaigners say loophole introduced by new bill could see victims forced to marry Bangladesh has been accused of taking a “devastating step backwards” in the fight against child marriage by introducing a legal loophole that sets no age limit for wedlock.

The Child Marriage Restraint Bill keeps the legal age of marriage as 18 for women and 21 for men but introduces exceptions in “special cases” or for in the “best interests” of the adolescent.

Campaigners say the law effectively sets the marriageable age at zero but supporters of the law, which needs presidential approval before coming into effect, say courts will prevent abuse by assessing applications.

There are fears the orders could be used to force victims of sexual abuse or pregnant rape victims to marry their abusersThe Girls Not Brides group said no examples of “special cases” had been given that would make child marriage acceptable, saying other measures such as protecting education and providing economic opportunities for girls would better serve their futures.Campaigners said the changes to the law would effectively mean that Bangladesh has a “zero minimum age of marriage”.

“We are concerned that this new act could lead to widespread abuse, legitimise 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.

“The need to protect the ‘honour’ of girls who have become pregnant was widely cited by the Bangladesh government as the reason for this provision. However marriage is not the best way to protect adolescent girls and exposes them to greater harm.”

Campaigners called on the government to focus on tackling the root causes of child marriage in Bangladesh, as well as healthcare, sex education, contraception and childcare issues.

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