Lawmakers in Bangladesh voted this week to add a loophole to country’s underage marriage law, weakening it. The move drew criticism from human rights advocates, but praise from Islamists, who say it said it hued closer to traditional religious practices. The Parliament added a new provision to the Child Marriage Restraint Act, enacted nearly 90 years ago, that allows girls as young as 14 years old, according to Channel New Asia, to marry in certain circumstances.
Sheikh Hasina, the Bangladeshi prime minister, and other lawmakers say teen girls who become pregnant are vulnerable to becoming cast out by society, and, therefore, the provision is necessary as a protective measure.
“Our rural society is very cruel,” Rebecca Momin, who leads the parliamentary committee on women and children, said, according to The New York Times. “They will point their finger at the pregnant girl. She will be an outcast in school and elsewhere. People will say nasty things to the girl’s parents.”
Despite the longtime law that prohibits marriage under the age of 18, Bangladesh already has one of the world’s highest child marriage rates. Some 65 percent of girls in Bangladesh were married before age 18 in the year 2000, the Times reports. And 38 percent were married before the age of 15. But in recent years, those staggering figures have dropped to 52 percent and 18 percent. Critics of the new loophole fear that the recent progress will be reversed.
“If you send the wrong message with this law, then it could be detrimental,” Soumya Brata Guha of Plan International, a children’s welfare group in Dhaka, told the Times, adding that the current law has been effective at curtailing teen pregnancy and marriage.
Moreover, some girls who found themselves faced with a marriage arranged by their parents to someone they did not know, have successfully used the law to avoid getting married at such a young age. Some aren’t that lucky. One girl, 17-year-old Sharmin Akter, talked about getting out of an arranged marriage when she was just 13 years old. “My life has been a fight,” she said. “But finally I’ve won something.” Now, Akter, says she’s fighting her parents again, trying to convince them to allow her a privilege many girls her age around the world take for granted.
Read the full story at The New York Times.