Bangladesh is in the process of passing the “Prohibition of Child Marriage Act – 2016” as part of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s promise to end child marriage by 2041, according to a Dec. 2 Financial Express article.
Unfortunately, this legislation does very little to protect underage individuals from entering into marriages.
Senior Researcher with the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch Heather Barr said in a Dec. 1 announcement that if the proposed law is passed, it will be a huge step backward for women’s and girls’ rights in Bangladesh.
The act advocates against underage individuals entering into marriages but provides certain concerning exceptions including an “accidental or unlawful pregnancy,” according to the Financial Express article.
Bangladeshi lawmakers must be aware that this exception could lead to young girls being raped, impregnated and forced into a technically legal child marriage.
If an “accidental or unlawful” pregnancy does occur, the government should protect that individual from being manipulated and forced into a marriage, instead of facilitating it.
Besides not protecting individuals who are under the age of consent, this legislation actually punishes children for entering into relationships that are obvious human rights violations.
One stipulation of the proposed law punishes children who enter into marriages when they are underage with a possible 15 days in prison or a fine if their marriage does not fall under the exceptions, according to Barr.
This perpetuates victim-blaming instead of placing rightful blame on the perpetrator of the crime. These children are not at fault for entering into marriages at a young age. The adults who coerce children into relationships and marriages and take them away from an education, family and a healthy childhood are the ones who need to face jail time or fines if Bangladesh is going to be serious about ending child marriage by 2041—or at any time.
Starting Nov. 25 and culminating on Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day, the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign takes place. The campaign, started by Center for Women’s Global Leadership, shares stories of activists around the world fighting gender-based violence and encouraging policymakers to introduce and pass laws that expand the rights of all individuals, including women and girls.
This draft legislation’s approval by the parliament and cabinet on the eve of the campaign is painfully ironic.
Child marriage is one of the many ways gender-based violence is expressed, and for Bangladesh to consider this law that does nothing to end child marriage, sends a message of disempowerment to women and girls in Bangladesh and around the world and is extremely disheartening.
If this legislation passes, similar legislation could pass in other countries on the edge of allowing child marriage to continue. Laws allowing child marriage to continue must be stopped in the early stages of their passage.
The global community must view these laws through a critical lens and not take them at the face value of a name like the “Prohibition of Child Marriage Act – 2016.”