The special provision of the proposed Child Marriage Prevention Act- 2016, which allows marriageable age for females before 18, will not only encourage child marriage but also affect children's right and women empowerment, said eminent rights activists.
They made the comments at a demonstration in Central Shaheed Minar yesterday, reiterating their demand for the removal of the special provision.
Hundreds of teenage girls, guardians and rights activists participated in the event under the banner of Samajik Pratirodh Committee -- a platform of 69 rights and non-government organisations.
The minimum legal age of marriage for females in Bangladesh is 18, according to the existing law. Modifying it, the government last year added a “special provision” that will be effective once the parliament approves it. As per section 19 of the proposed act, okayed by the cabinet on November 24, a child marriage would not be considered an offence if it was for the interest of the underage girl. This has to be done in line with the directives of a court, with the consent of the parents, and following due procedure.
“Girls should not be married off before 18, not even in any special circumstances,” said Ayesha Khanam, president of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad.
Nijera Kori Coordinator Khushi Kabir said the government did not mention any specific age for girls in the special provision. So, there is a huge possibility that they could be married off at a very early age, even at 13 or 14, she said.
Child abusers and rapists could take advantage of the law by creating situations, which will force the parents to marry their daughters off to them.
Sadia Akter, a nine grader from Sunamganj, said no girls had wanted to get married before finishing their study. Girls like her wish to continue their study.
Eti Robi Das, a mother of a 13-year-old girl in the capital's Wari area, said, “The guardians don't want to marry their daughters off before 18; so, the special provision is not needed.”
Farah Kabir, country director of ActionAid, said the government has added the special provision considering security of the girls, but marrying them off before 18 could not be a solution. Instead of security, they will be victims of physical and mental torture.
Shaheen Anam, executive director of Manusher Jonno Foundation; Rasheda K Chowdhury, adviser to a former caretaker government; Jinat Ara Haque, national coordinator of We Can Bangladesh; Advocate Salma Ali, executive director of Bangladesh National Women Lawyers' Association; and Chanchana Chakma, president of Hill Women's Federation; also spoke.