Health Minister Mohammad Nasim yesterday said the updated child marriage restraint act would not leave any scope for girls' marriage below 18 years.
The 2014 draft of the proposed law determines 18 as the minimum legal age for girls' marriage as it was in the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 but with an addition that under circumstances with logical reasoning girls above 16 years, having consent from parents and court, are also allowed to marry.
As National Human Rights Commissioner (NHRC) Chairman Prof Mizanur Rahman pointed out the matter at a discussion yesterday, the minister said the clause would not remain in the law.
"If such a provision is kept in the law, some people will take its advantage," said Nasim, citing harmful impacts on girls' health for marriage before 18 years.
The roundtable discussion on the implementation of law to prevent early marriage was organised by the Bangla daily Prothom Alo in association with World Vision Bangladesh and Child Rights Advocacy Coalition Bangladesh at its office in the capital's Karwan Bazar.
Speaking of the draft law, Prof Mizanur Rahman said a circular had been sent to all deputy commissioners from the Prime Minister's Office with the signature of a director, according to which marriage age is 18 years but with parents' or court's consent 16 years would be acceptable and that they would take steps accordingly.
"Should the deputy commissioners listen to our scientific explanations regarding the issue or follow the instructions given in the circular," he said.
The draft was approved by the cabinet in September last year following an initiative taken in 2013 to update the 1929 act.
Mostafizur Rahman, joint secretary (opinion) of law and justice division of the law ministry could not specify what is the current status of the proposed law. The draft may be at the vetting stage at the law ministry, he said.
"Early marriage is prevalent mostly among the underprivileged class. Many marriages take place due to lack of social security," Mostafizur said.
The Ministry of Women and Children Affairs in 2013 requested the law commission to give recommendations on the proposed law, but the ministry prepared the draft before the commission could make any suggestion, said Fowzul Azim, chief research officer of the law commission.
Referring to a research done in Rajshahi Division, he said unscrupulous practices by kazis, notary public and union parishad members encouraged child marriages in the area.
Women parliamentarians Wasequa Aysha Khan and Nurjahan Begum Mukta emphasised the importance of increasing awareness about issues involved with early marriage, saying they would discuss the proposed legislation in parliament.
"We need to teach moral values to our boys and girls in families and teach boys how to respect women," Wasequa said.
Religious leaders, schoolteachers and community leaders must be engaged in raising awareness about the harmful consequences of early marriage, said lawmaker Abdul Matin Khasru, member of the parliamentary standing committee for legal affairs.
Three children's representatives Al-Amin, Tania-Akhter and Mohammad Nizam Hossain, present at the meeting, urged for a law with stricter punishment.
About 66% girls in the country are married off before the age of 18, which is the highest in South Asia.