DHAKA/NEW DELHI, March 2, (Agencies): A new Bangladeshi law that lets under-age girls marry their rapists for “the greater good of the adolescent” may put more children at risk of sexual abuse, child rights groups said on Wednesday.
The impoverished South Asian nation, whose Prime Minister is Shaikh Hasina, has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, despite laws banning marriage for girls under 18 and men under 21. Legitimising marriage for young rape victims in the name of ‘honour’ does nothing to protect their body or rights, the advocates said. “We are concerned that this new act could lead to widespread abuse, legitimise statutory rape, allow parents to force their girls to marry their rapists, and further encourage the practice of child marriage in a country with one of the highest child marriage rates in the world,” said a statement from Girls Not Brides Bangladesh, a global alliance of more 650 charities.
The charities issued the statement two days after legislators amended Bangladesh’s marriage laws to let under-18s wed in “special cases” for “the greater good of the adolescent” and with parental and court consent. The child rights groups said the provision does not define “special cases” or “greater good” — leaving the law open to interpretation, or to legitimise statutory rape. The consent provision would also not prevent children being forced into marriage, said the alliance statement.
“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.” A senior Bangladeshi government official denied the provision would lead to more abuse, saying lawmakers had taken into account the social context of life in a majority Muslim nation, and that protection mechanisms were in place.