How to get married in Bangladesh

Bangladesh: Child marriage harms girls

(Dhaka) - Despite promises to the contrary, the Bangladesh government has not yet taken sufficient action to end child marriage, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Instead, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took steps in the wrong direction after promising in July 2014 to end child marriage by 2041. Your plan to lower the age at marriage for girls from 18 to 16 has raised serious doubts about this obligation.

Bangladesh has the highest marriage rate for girls under the age of 15 in the world. According to a UNICEF study, 29 percent of them are married under the age of 15, and two percent are married under the age of eleven. Since the government remains inactive again and again and many local officials allow child marriages, even very young girls can be married unhindered. This threatens more and more of them, since the frequent natural disasters in Bangladesh plunge many families into poverty, which is why they then often decide to marry their daughters.

"Child marriage is epidemic in Bangladesh and the numbers deteriorate after natural disasters," said Heather Barr, women's rights expert at Human Rights Watch. “The government said a few right things. But their proposal to lower the age at marriage is a step in the wrong direction. You have to act before Bangladesh loses another generation of girls. "

The 134-page report "Marry Before Your House is Swept Away: Child Marriage in Bangladesh" is based on more than a hundred interviews conducted across the country, mostly with married girls. Some of the respondents were just 10 years old. The report documents the factors that favor child marriage, including poverty, natural disasters, lack of access to education, social pressures, intimidation and dowry. He also discusses how child marriages affect the lives of girls and their families. Among other things, they lead to the dropping out of secondary school education, serious damage to health and even death from premature pregnancy, neglect and domestic violence by spouses and in-laws.

Child marriage has been illegal in Bangladesh since 1929 and the legal age at marriage has been 18 for women and 21 for men since the 1980s. Even so, Bangladesh has the fourth highest marriage rate among people under the age of 18 after Niger, the Central African Republic and Chad. 65 percent of girls in Bangladesh marry before their 18th birthday.

Because the government fails to enforce the law against child marriage and crack down on the factors that favor it, many poor families marry off their daughters to deal with their plight:

  • When parents cannot feed their children or cannot pay for their schooling, they seek husbands for their daughters to ensure their care.
  • Girls living in poverty have little access to education, even if it is formally free because their families cannot pay examination fees, school uniforms and stationery and cannot cover other costs.
  • Girls who drop out of school are often married off by their parents.
  • Sexual harassment of unmarried girls - and the failure of the police in these cases - is also a reason to marry off children.
  • In some communities, child marriage is not only accepted but expected. Families are under social pressure and some traditions encourage early marriages, including the widespread practice of paying dowries, which increase with age.

The report also finds that natural disasters have an impact on the number of child marriages. Bangladesh is one of the countries in the world hardest hit by natural disasters and climate change. They plunge many families into poverty, making them more likely to marry off their daughters early. Many parents reported that they were forced to arrange weddings immediately after or before a natural disaster. This is the situation in particular for families whose houses and property have been destroyed by creeping river erosion.

The government of Bangladesh is not taking effective action against child marriage. At the international “Girls Summit” in London in 2014, the Prime Minister promised to abolish child marriages. She presented some measures with which she wanted to achieve this goal, including legislative reforms and the development of a national action plan by the end of 2014. The government has not implemented any of these projects. Instead, she is taking the wrong path by lowering the age at marriage for girls from 18 to 16 as planned.

Girls at risk are also given no support from local government officials. There is a growing awareness that it is forbidden by law to marry girls before their 18th birthday. But it is undermined by the fact that many local officials assist families with child marriages. The people interviewed for the report agree that officials issue fake birth certificates that the girls are older than 18 for bribes of just € 1.20. Even on the rare occasions when officials prevent weddings, families can easily organize them elsewhere.

"The government of Bangladesh must vigorously and quickly keep the promises that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made publicly," said Barr. "The first step is to immediately withdraw the proposal that the age at marriage for girls should be reduced to 16 years."

Some other developments in Bangladesh are considered successes, including in the area of ​​women's rights. The United Nations praised the “impressive” reduction in poverty from 56.7 percent in 1991/1992 to 31.5 percent in 2010. In the meantime, just as many girls as boys are enrolled in primary and secondary schools. Maternal mortality fell by 40 percent between 2001 and 2010. These developmental successes raise the question of why the number of closed child marriages is still one of the highest in the world.

As a signatory to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Bangladesh is obliged to protect the rights of girls and women. This includes the right to non-discrimination, to the highest possible standard of health and to education. In addition, girls and women must freely consent to their marriage, choose their spouse themselves and must not experience any physical, psychological or sexual violence. Child marriage often means that these rights are no longer adequately protected and realized.

Human Rights Watch's research in villages shows that the law against child marriage is not being enforced and that there are serious gaps in the health, education and welfare systems that should better protect girls from weddings. The government has made significant strides in improving access to education by removing fees for primary education. But the other costs associated with attending school mean that further education in particular remains inaccessible for a large number of children. For girls, this often means getting married too young. Government agencies that support families living in poverty or affected by natural disasters should be more involved in the fight against child marriage. Especially the girls who need it most have little access to information about reproductive health or to contraceptives. When girls are affected by violence and abuse, they often do not know where to get help. The law against child marriage must be reformed and, above all, enforced.

"By not doing anything about child marriage, the Bangladeshi government is doing great harm to one of their most precious treasures - their young wives," says Barr. “The government - and its donors - need to be more committed to ensuring that girls stay in school and receive support if they are at risk of getting married. You need to take action against sexual harassment and make information about reproductive health and contraception more accessible. Above all, the government must implement its law against child marriage. "