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Monday, March 9, 2015, Falgun 25, 1421 BS, Jamadi ul Awwal 17, 1436 Hijr

Lowering of marriage age will raise girls' woes: Experts
Published : Monday, 9 March, 2015,  Time : 12:00 AM,  View Count : 18

Banani Mallick
The recent government stance to lower girl's marriageable age from 18 to 16 with option of special consideration in certain cases has raised questions about the government's commitment to women development.
Representatives of civil society and women right activists who were active in putting pressure on the government not to decrease the marriageable age of girls below 18 have expressed their worries.
They said the decision of reducing of marriageable age for girls from 18 to 16 will increase pregnancy, maternal mortality and will adversely affect women's health.
Adv Elina Khan, Director of Bangladesh Manabadhikar, talking to The Daily Observer, said that the decision will have a disastrous affect on girls.
 "Government is playing hide and seek and bluffing us. This is unexpected. The consequence will be very bad," she said.
"A 16-year old girl when married off is also a child herself. How can a child play the role of a wife?" She asked.
"A 16-year old may look physically grown up but is not mentally mature. And when she gets married she faces lots of problems which she is unable to deal with due to their tender age," she said.
She also added that the most terrific situation a girl faces just after her marriage is when she is thrown out by her laws and husband and if by that time she becomes a mother.
Earlier, Meher Afroz Chumki, State Minister for Ministry of Women and Child Affairs, told this correspondent that the government would not decrease girl's marriageable age from 18 to 16 but some special clauses to the Act could be added.
"Girls of Bangladesh become grown up pretty faster due to the weather. So how long a poor father in the rural areas can protect a grown up girl," she opined.
Countering her statement many women rights activists said that providing security is the duty of the state. Arranging early marriage cannot be an alternative.
They also noted that in terms of education, girls start to drop out of school by the time they hit puberty and now the government's decision of lowering the marriageable age of girls will only increase the number of girl drop outs further.
Tariqul Islam, Secretary of the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs, refused to comment on the issue when asked by this correspondent on Sunday.
Prof M Shah Alam, former chairman of Law Commission, said if appropriate measures were not taken then the provision could be misused.
If parents wanted their girls to get married at 16 in a complicated situation for example, unwanted pregnancy, in such case the court should verify the real cause, he suggested. 
So before drafting the final Act, the government must realize the reality and social background, he said.
Khushi Kabir, Coordinator of Nijera Kori, while talking about the recent decision of the government, said that it was not expect from the government.
Referring to the exceptional clause of parents' consent of marriage age, she said that parents even want their girls to get married off as early as 12 years old.
"This option is very irrational. It will only turn us back," she said.
Human Rights Watch, a New York-based rights group, has called upon the government not to bring down the minimum marriageable age of girls to 16 from 18.
The cabinet has recently approved an amendment to the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929.
According to a UNICEF report, Bangladesh has the second highest rate of child marriage in the world after Niger.
In a recent statement, Liesl Gerntholtz, director, women's rights of HRW, said, "Setting the age of marriage for girls in Bangladesh at 16 would be a terrible step in the wrong direction."
The draft of the Child Marriage Restraint Act has been finalized with the provision of a maximum two year jail sentence and Tk 50,000 fine for violation of the law on September 15 in 2014.

Editor : Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury
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