Bangladesh's New Child Marriage Law Predicted To Rise Health Risk In Children

By Donna Bellevue , Mar 11, 2017 03:01 AM EST

Human rights groups are expecting a rise in health risks in female children with the recently passed Child Marriage Law in Bangladesh, which allows children as young as 14 to be married off by their parents. More alarming is that it also introduces a legal loophole that sets no age limit for wedlock. The controversial new law was criticized by public groups for taking a “devastating step backwards” in the fight against child marriage in which victims could be forced to marry child rapists.

The Child Marriage Restraint Bill keeps the legal age of marriage as 18 for women and 21 for men but introduces exceptions in “special cases”. Campaigners say the new provisions effectively sets the marriageable age at zero. Meher Afroze Chumkstate, minister for women and children’s affairs, tries to calm critics by explaining that the bill would include special permission from the court in the case of the marriage of a minor after assessing applications, which will prevent abuse.

However, the Child Rights Advocacy Coalition in Bangladesh, says that the new law could be abused and poses a "risk" to children's health. Early marriage causes millions of girls to drop out of education. Young brides are expected to work in their husbands’ households, subjecting them to the same hazards as child domestic worker, the First Post reports.

Moreover, there are fears the bill could be used to force victims of sexual abuse or pregnant rape victims to marry their abusers. In Bangladesh, there is a cultural need to protect the 'honour' of girls who have become pregnant, which was widely cited by the Bangladesh government as the reason for this provision. However, Human Rights watchers assert that marriage is not the best way to protect adolescent girls as it even exposes them to greater harm, the Independent reports.

Campaigners call on the Bangladesh government to focus on eradicating the root causes of child marriage to prevent rise in child health risks. They also suggest the tackling of critical health issues such as healthcare, sex education, contraception and childcare. The new child marriage provisions will be finalized on March 12.

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