According to the site Girls Not Brides, since 1929 the legal age of marriage in Bangladesh is 18 for women and 21 for men. Yet the law is widely flouted: 52% of Bangladeshi girls are married by 18, and 18% by the age of 15. This is the second highest rate of child marriage on the planet. (Note that Wikipedia cites several countries with higher rates of under-18 marriages; Niger, a highly Muslim country, is the highest with up to 76% of marriages involving women under 18.)
Now, in a regressive move, Bangladesh is considering adopting the “Child Marriage Restraint Act”, which has already passed Parliament but awaits Presidential approval. According to an article in The Independent, the old limits will be kept but a new loophole will be introduced that allows people to marry at younger ages “in special cases”, or where such marriages are “in the best interests” of the child. There is no lower age limit for this loophole, theoretically allowing very young girls to get married, or women to marry their rapists or statutory rapists. (Supporters of the bill note that it will also increase punishments of those who violate the Act.)
As the Independent reports:
The Girls Not Brides group said no examples of “special cases” had been given that would make child marriage acceptable, saying other measures such as protecting education and providing economic opportunities for girls would better serve their futures.
. . . “The need to protect the ‘honour’ of girls who have become pregnant was widely cited by the Bangladesh government as the reason for this provision. However marriage is not the best way to protect adolescent girls and exposes them to greater harm.”
Now I’m not gong to pin this solely on Islam, as some African countries with high rates of child marriage are not majority-Muslim, yet have cultural and societal excuses for such marriages. But Islam certainly promotes this kind of behavior by reinforcing the “honour and purity” culture, as well as by the example of Muhammad, who, according to tradition, married one child of six and took her virginity when she was nine and he 53. And other religions, like Mormonism, also promote this reprehensible practice.
The law will be finalized today after the government makes any amendments. The only amendment that should be made is to reaffirm the 1929 law.
Below is a picture from the Independent article with the caption: “15 year old Nasoin Akhter is consoled by a friend on the day of her wedding to a 32 year old man, August 20, 2015 in Manikganj, Bangladesh.”