Legal loopholes propel child marriage: experts

DHAKA, Aug 31, 2018 (BSS/UNICEF FEATURE)-Accomplishing his high school graduation last year, Khairul, a 17-year boy living in Purbo Gobaria village under Kuliarchar upazila in Kishoreganj district, enrolled in a technical collage located in the nearby Laksmipur village to continue his study.

And everything was going on the right direction with Khairul attending his classes regularly at the college. But, eventually he fell in love with a schoolgoing girl of Laksmipur. One fine evening last month, he like other teenage lover went to meet her beloved in her home.

While dating in a secret place the pair was caught red-handed by members of the girl’s family. The family members produced the pair before a local court the following day and their marriage was accordingly solemnized.

As per version of the newly-wed Khairul, who is the youngest among his five siblings, he married her girl friend under coercion. Despite being under aged, the family exerted tremendous social pressure on him to do so.

One week after Khairul’s episode, one of his cousins of the same age group, Abdus Samad went missing with his teenage girl friend. Next day, the pair appeared before
a court and got married. Two underage cousins got married within a week fading their family image.

Like the cases of Khairul and Samad, many child marriages are taking place in the country. The social menace is occurring taking the advantage of legal loopholes of the concerned law and bypassing legal obligations.

According to experts, since rules have not yet been formulated under the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017, the misuse of the law continues across the country.

They stressed the need for immediate formulation of rules under the act to check child marriage as a provision of the act, which allows underage marriages under special circumstances, is being misused.

The special circumstances provision permits parents, and in the absence of parents, the minors’ guardians, to get a court order and marry their wards off even before
they reach the minimum marriageable age in their (the children’s) ‘best interests’.

In a recent presentation, executive coordinator of We Can Alliance to End Violence against Women Jinat Ara Haque said to take advantage of the provision, parents and guardians in many districts were found to be seeking help from lawyers to get court permission for early

To implement the law, she said, legal and systematic loopholes should be plugged, which require the formulation of rules under the act.

Experts say child marriage will not be eradicated overnight, but the civil society and rights activists should focus on formulation of the rules to lay the ground for implementation of the 2017 act.

While the incidence of child marriage has decreased worldwide, it has increased in Bangladesh, which stands fourth in child marriage prevalence, according to a UNICEF report launched globally on March 6, 2018.

According to the 2011 survey, 52 percent of girls in Bangladesh are victims of child marriage.

Child marriage can be defined as any marriage carried out below the age of 18 years, before the girl is physically, physiologically and psychologically ready to shoulder the responsibilities of marriage and childbearing. Early marriage is known to have dangerous consequences on health and development of girls.