GNB launched CALL FOR LAW REFORM of Child Marriage Restraint Act, 2017 in Bangladesh

Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. Bangladesh’s high rate of child marriage has multifaceted causes and consequences. Parents of girls are usually motivated to marry their daughters at an early age because of concerns for the girls’ sexual safety and security, the need to conform to traditional societal expectations, and the need to avoid higher costs associated with later marriage and dowry demands that rise with age. Although laws are in place to restrain and criminalize child marriage in Bangladesh, the general situation of enforcement of laws has also been relatively poor.

The current law that addresses child marriage is the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 2017 (CMRA) repealing the earlier British law of 1929. The Act sets the minimum age of marriage for a male as 21 years and for a female as 18 years. CMRA criminalizes contracting, allowing, or solemnizing of a child marriage. In 2018 the Child Marriage Restraint Rules (the Rules) had been also formulated providing details of the formation and responsibilities of the Child Marriage Prevention Committees, along with other functional details. Although the stringent provisions in the new law, including its focus on preventive measures, have been well appreciated by the key stakeholders, there had also been disagreements over certain aspects of the law.

Inclusion of a special provision allowing marriage below 18 years had faced serious criticisms. Discontent was also evident over the drafting process of CMRA and the Rules without wider inclusion of the civil society members’ recommendations. Moreover, as both the Act and the Rules were newly enacted, there was a need among the civil society members to effectively understand and act on the new legal regime set up for restraining child marriages. It was felt necessary that a thorough analysis of the new law would provide an opportunity to identify areas that needs greater attention both in terms of law reform and of advocacy strategies for stronger implementation.

In this context, as a part of the initiative of Girls Not Brides Partnership Bangladesh (GNB), Plan International Bangladesh (as the secretariat of GNB), has commissioned the present study to review the Child Marriage Restraint Act (CMRA) and its Rules, told Kashfia Feroz, Head of Influencing, Plan International in Bangladesh. According to her, The study is undertaken thus to assist the overall national effort to eliminate child marriage by providing positive input as to the national legal framework that addresses child marriage. The study acknowledges that the call for law reform should persist so long as the legal framework ensures maximum protection to the children whose best interest should be at the center of all discourses that relate to the elimination of child marriage. This study was conducted by Taslima Yasmin, Department of Law, University of Dhaka. Recently, GNB handed over the report of ‘Legal Regime Analysis on Child Marriage in Bangladesh’ to Dr. Abul Hossain, Project Director, Multi-Sectoral Programme on Violence Against Women, Ministry of Women and Children Affairs.

Overview

The current law in Bangladesh that addresses child marriage is the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 2017 (CMRA) that repealed the earlier British law of 1929. The Act sets the minimum age of marriage for a male as 21 years and for a female as 18 years. CMRA criminalizes contracting, allowing, or solemnizing of a child marriage. In 2018, the Child Marriage Restraint Rules (the Rules) had been also formulated providing details of the formation and responsibilities of the Child Marriage Prevention Committees, along with other functional details.

Although the stringent provisions in the new law, including its focus on preventive measures, have been well appreciated by the key stakeholders, there had also been disagreements over certain aspects of the law. Inclusion of a ‘special provision’ (under section 19 of CMRA) allowing marriage below 18 years had faced serious criticisms. Besides, as both the Act and the Rules were newly enacted, there was a need among the civil society members to effectively understand and act on the new legal regime set up for restraining child marriages. A thorough analysis of the new law would thus provide an opportunity to identify areas that needs greater attention both in terms of law reform and of advocacy strategies for stronger implementation. As such this study commissioned by Plan International Bangladesh analyses the CMRA’17 and the Rules and attempts to identify existing gaps and inconsistencies. Based on the legal analysis, the study then proposes specific reforms in the current legal regime for restraining child marriages.

The study contextually analyses the child marriage situation both globally and at the national level and discusses the international and national legal framework relevant for addressing child marriage in Bangladesh. The study then critically reviews the key provisions of the CMRA and its corresponding rules and elaborately analyses the key gaps in the provisions. Apart from the inadequacies in the laws relating to child marriage, the study also focuses on certain other lacunas in the enforcement of the CMRA and its Rules. Such gaps include lack of awareness about the laws and procedures, poor functioning of the preventive mechanisms, weak implementation of the marriage and birth registration system, limited prosecution of child marriage, absence of protection and support systems for victims, etc. The study concludes by recommending a concise proposal for specific reforms in the CMRA and its Rules.

The summary of the report is available here: CALL FOR LAW REFORM

Author Sohanur Rahman is a Change Maker at ‘SRHR for All and End Child Marriage’. Reach him out at kishanibd@gmail.com

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