Dhaka, Oct 2 :
The Bangladesh government is considering lowering the age of marriage to 16 years for girls.
Girls’ tendency to elope at an early age has prompted the government to discuss the issue of lowering the legal age of marriage to 16 years, Zahid Maleque, the country’s junior health minister said, according to bdnews24.com.
“No decision has been taken yet. The matter is under consideration,” Maleque said Thursday.
“Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is facing pressure from the rural areas to reduce the age of marriage,” Maleque said.
The current legal age of marriage is 18 years when a girl is no longer a child. That is in keeping with the UN Child Rights Convention that Bangladesh ratified.
The changing of legal age means the government will have to depart from all international commitments to prevent child marriage.
Bangladesh is known for having one of the highest rates of child marriage in this region and that also contributes to its high incidence of maternal deaths.
The Bangladesh cabinet recently took a policy decision to discuss the issue of lowering the legal age of marriage, the minister informed.
He said they put the issue on the table as the prime minister was facing “pressure from the rural areas”. With improvement in girls’ education and empowerment, there is a growing tendency to elope, the minister said.
“Then sometimes there is a need to marry them off early,” he said generating murmurs among the audience that comprised development partners, donors, NGOs and government officials.
He said the government would take the final decision after discussing the matter with all, including the civil society.
Ishtiaq Mannan of Save the Children has termed the idea to lower the age a very wrong step.
“Even putting it on the table for discussion will send a wrong message across Bangladesh as well as throughout the world,” he said.
Mannan said, apart from health hazards, early marriages would create “larger social insecurity”.
“Boys and girls will not be mentally prepared for marriage if they are married off at an early age. So it can create disharmony in the family resulting in violence and divorce,” he said.
“I am surprised how it can be put on the table for discussion,” he said.
“Early marriage contributes significantly to maternal mortality and disability. Their babies are often born premature and live with lifelong malnutrition,” Mannan stated.
He said the government could take other steps to ensure social security if it found elopements were a big problem.