Human Rights Watch has urged the government of Bangladesh not to lower the minimum age for girls' marriage.
Asking the government to comply with international prohibitions against child marriage, it said the Bangladeshi government should set 18 as the minimum age for marriage.
The international rights watchdog issued a press release on Sunday.
They made the urge following the recent media reports that indicated that prime minister’s cabinet has been considering a revision to the law to make 16 the minimum age of marriage for girls while the minimum age for men would be 18.
The proposed revisions would reverse stated government aims to reduce child marriage among girls, Human Rights Watch said.
“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 Human Rights Watch. “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 centre 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% 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.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Bangladesh ratified in 1990, defines a child as anyone under age 18.
“The Bangladeshi government’s promised efforts to end child marriage are encouraging, but these steps need the participation of affected women and activist groups,” Gerntholtz said. “The government should consult closely at every stage with the groups, who have a wealth of knowledge about protecting women and girls, to develop a new law and a national plan of action.”
“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.”
On September 15, State Minister for Women and Children Affairs Meher Afroz Chumki told reporters at her office that anyone under 18 years would be considered as a child, but a male under 18 years and a female under 16 years will be considered as minor in the final draft.