A counterproductive step
While surfing through the sea of content on the Internet the other day, I found a series of documentaries about the poor conditions of women around the world which included an episode about the practice of child marriage in Bangladesh. This is not a new story as Bangladesh was ranked fourth in the world in a survey (conducted by Unicef) on child marriage. The survey provides jaw-dropping numbers—it stated that the rate of child marriage in Bangladesh is 57 percent.
In 2017, the Jatiya Sangsad enacted the controversial Child Marriage Restraint Act, 2017. While most arguments against this Act are concerning the "special clause," the provision which grabbed my attention in particular was Section 6 which provides that punishment for lodging a false complaint is up to six months' imprisonment or maximum Tk 30,000 fine.
In a country where most civilians do not adhere to this Act and a very insignificant number of complaints are filed, what would be the effect of such a provision in an "almost ineffective" statute?
Reporting child marriages is very rare since a large number of people in Bangladesh consider it to be exclusively a family matter. Even the thought of guardians making decisions which are not favourable for their child is alien to many in our society. A majority of the people in the countryside where child marriage is mostly practised share similar views. So, the likelihood of an individual going out of his/her way to actually file a complaint is very slim. And having knowledge of the existence of a law which may result in the complainant being imprisoned if the complaint turns out to be untrue further reduces any chance of people voluntarily filing complaints under the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 2017.
Who would want to risk their liberty and money in order to stop a father from marrying off his underage daughter? Instead of encouraging people to come forward and report child marriage, the government has instead included a punishment for false accusation. What this serves to do is put the effectiveness of the whole Act at risk.
Take for example the UK's law against false rape allegations which can lead to a maximum life imprisonment sentence. According to the British activist group Women Against Rape (WAR), because of this law rapes tend to remain unreported in the UK more often than in the US where there is no such law against false rape allegations.
So it can be deduced that punishment for false allegations discourages citizens to come forward with complaints. It also, as previously mentioned, runs the risk of making the concerning statute less effective. But why is effectiveness needed?
Natural law theorists all agree on the fact that in law there must be morality and effectiveness. Without effectiveness, the law does not have proper validity. Even the legal positivist Hans Kelsen corrupts his "Pure Theory of Law" by admitting that a little efficiency is a prerequisite for the validity of a law. To put it in simpler context, there is little point of creating a piece of legislation if it remains ineffective.
The government may argue that Section 6 was added to prevent an innocent person from getting harassed by judicial proceedings. But that argument carries little value since it is the duty of the government to ensure justice and transparency in judicial proceedings. The government must protect the citizens from judicial abuse by making the process more feasible. If the government cannot keep faith in its own judicial wing, then how can the civilians believe in the system? What the enactment of this kind of law highlights is the inability and shortcomings of our legislative body.
Nafiz Ahmed is a student in the Department of Law, North South University.