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An Early Assessment of the 2017 Child Marriage Restraint Act of Bangladesh

Published Date March 10, 2022
Research Type
Authors Russell Hassan

Abstract

The practice of girl-child marriage is a major impediment to women’s health, empowerment, and gender equality within South Asia and Bangladesh in particular, which is home to an estimated 38 million child brides.1 Recognizing the adverse effects of child marriage, the Bangladesh Government recently committed to eliminating child marriage by 2041.2 To this effort, it has enacted new legislation, the 2017 Child Marriage Restraint Act (CMRA), that stipulates harsher penalties and includes several preventative measures against child marriage. However, the law has several countervailing elements that can potentially have the opposite impact on child marriage prevention.3,4 Specifically, it allows marriage before the legal age (18 years) under special circumstances if the marriage is deemed to serve “the best interest of the minor.”4 Yet the law does not specify what constitutes “the best interest of the minor” nor does it suggest any minimum age for such marriage.4 In addition, it stipulates punishments for filing false complaints,4 which may deter people to report a child marriage to local authorities before the marriage is solemnized. Research shows that legal exceptions such as parental permission and customary or religious laws that supersede the minimum legal age of marriage may weaken child marriage prevention efforts.5 Hence, the special provision in the 2017 CMRA could potentially have a detrimental impact on eradicating child marriage in Bangladesh in the next two decades. Using available data, we examined trends in child marriage in Bangladesh following the enactment of the new law to inform policymakers working toward eliminating child marriage from the country.