Contradictory and counterproductive
It is extremely disappointing that despite all the concerns expressed by activists and international organisations working for the rights of young girls, the government has chosen to retain the provision of the Child Marriage Restraint Act that will make girls between 16 and 18 eligible for marriage. According to the relevant ministry, the rule will be applied 'under special circumstances' such as if a girl gets pregnant before marriage or if she elopes. Such reasoning is neither logical nor acceptable in a situation where we are trying to eliminate child marriage altogether.
Despite the flimsy reassurances that the clause will not be used at people's whims, the reality of the situation compels us to fear that this rule will allow for parents to marry off their girls not just at 16 but even before that. The 14-year-old girl whose marriage was prevented by a conscientious nirbahi officer in Narail, as reported in this daily yesterday, is proof of this age-old practice that is carried on despite a law prohibiting it. According to Unicef, 65 percent of girls are married off before they reach 18 years.
With such a high incidence of child marriage this clause is counterproductive to all the efforts to prevent this social malaise. It seems to be rather a number crunching ploy to show a reduction in the number of child marriages.
The rule therefore, contradicts the legal definition of a child which is a person under 18. As activists have pointed out, it will be more realistic to provide education on reproductive rights and unwanted pregnancies rather than give a pretext for families to continue to marry off minors. We urge the government to listen to these concerned voices and rethink this decision.