The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Bangladesh government not to lower marriage age for girls, suggesting the country complies with international prohibitions against child marriage.
"The proposed revisions would reverse stated government aims to reduce child marriage among girls," the New York-based rights group said referring to the proposed lowering of girls' age for marriage.
Bangladesh: Don’t Lower Marriage Age http://t.co/2ZZPHzIeA6
— Human Rights Watch (@hrw) October 13, 2014
The HRW call came following recent media reports indicating that the Bangladesh cabinet is considering a revision to the law to make 16 the minimum age of marriage for girls. The minimum age for men would be 18.
At the July 2014 Girl Summit in London, HRW pointed out, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina pledged to take steps to reduce, and end child marriage in Bangladesh by 2041.
The government also committed to develop a national plan of action on child marriage before 2015, and take other steps to change social norms and engage civil society in the fight against child marriage.
“Setting the age of marriage for girls in Bangladesh at 16 would be a terrible step in the wrong direction,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, women’s rights director at HRW.
“The rate of child marriage in Bangladesh is already off the charts. The new law should set the minimum age of marriage at 18 for both women and men and put the best interests of children at the center of all of its provisions.”
Bangladesh has the second-highest rate of child marriage in the world, second only to Niger, according to the United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF. About 74 percent of Bangladeshi women currently aged 20 to 49 were married or in a union before age 18, despite a minimum legal marriage age for women of 18.
International law prohibiting gender discrimination requires that the age of marriage be the same for both women and men, and evolving international standards set 18 as the minimum age.
“Bangladesh should take the opportunity to learn from countries around the world that have successfully tackled child marriage,” Gerntholtz said.
“The Bangladeshi government should pass a new Child Marriage Restraint Act that empowers girls to delay marriage, resist unwanted marriage, and be recognized in society for their value as individuals, not just as brides.”
The HRW suggested specific issues for the law reform process: expanding prevention and assistance to victims, making full consent a cornerstone of marriage, taking marital rape seriously, providing legal options for victims, simplifying bringing a complaint, extending the time period within which child marriage can be challenged, targeting penalties primarily toward officials who are breaking the law and building effective enforcement into the law and the plan for its implementation.