Child Marriage Restraint Act: Why special provisions?

Everyone will admit that child marriage is one of the major problems in Bangladesh. In the past, 80 per cent of the country's girls were married before the age of 18. Although the situation has improved somewhat in the past three decades, the grim state still prevails. There are financial and religious reasons behind this, as well as lack of security.

Many parents believe they will be free from liability if they get their daughters married off at a young age. This is undoubtedly a vicious mind-set. Marrying a girl under the age of 18 not only puts her at health risk, but also puts future generations in dire straits. Keeping this in mind the Child Marriage Restraint Act was passed in 2017.

We strongly oppose the special provisions in the act in greater interests of minors. The 'appropriate court' mentioned in Section 19 of the act and rule 17 of the provisions may give permission for child marriage. But the definition of a suitable court has not been determined. As a result, various complexities arose and the matter was taken to the High Court.

According to a Prothom Alo report, their parents are willing to marry off a 16-year-old girl from Dhaka and a 25-year-old man from Narayanganj. Therefore, both of their fathers applied to the additional deputy commissioner (general) of Dhaka on 20 March seeking permission under Section 19 of the Child Marriage Restraint Act.

They filed a writ petition with the High Court later as they did not get the permission. According to Section 19 of the special provisions, minors have the opportunity to get married with the consent of their parents in the best interest of the court. However, Section 19 of the act and Section 18 of the rules do not specify what would be the ‘appropriate court’.

Following the writ, a High Court bench comprising justice JBM Hasan and justice Sarkar Mohammad Rashed Jahangir issued a rule to the government on Wednesday stating which court would mean "appropriate court". The rule seeks to know why in the interest of minors, it will not be directed to specify the 'appropriate court' mentioned in Section 19 of the special provisions as well as Section 17 of the rules. Defendants, including the law secretary, the home secretary and the secretary of the ministry of women and children, have been asked to respond to the rule within three weeks.

Our argument against this special provision was that since the birth registration in the country has not been implemented 100 per cent, parents simply increase the age of the bride and groom arbitrarily. Special provisions have facilitated that opportunity. Many are marrying underage boys and girls taking advantage of special provisions. These marriages are not always ‘accidental’.

We hope that the government, following the directions of the High Court, will immediately define the appropriate court. There should not be any ambiguity about this. At the same time, we demand the repeal of the special provision of the Child Marriage Restraint Act.