THE purpose of enacting the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017 is to restrain child marriages in Bangladesh. There has been a lot of discussion and debate about effectiveness of this act in achieving its goal when it allows child marriage under special circumstances. However, as the law has been passed, it is time that we look forward and think on how best we can bridge the new Act to minimise the harm caused to under aged citizens of this country.
Annihilating child marriage needs effort from all sections of a society. It requires understanding an understanding of all stakeholders who has role in the existing practice of child marriage. In doing so, we will be able to design and implement interventions accordingly. ‘Girls Not Brides,’ an international partnership of more than 700 civil society organisations dedicated to eradicating child marriage and empowering girls to fulfil their potential developed a ‘Theory of Change.’ This theory is aimed at describing varieties of methods required to deal with this epidemic of child marriage. In each case, it has been evidenced that every member of a society has a role to play. The ‘Theory of Change’ focuses on long-standing, viable interventions that are synchronised and resourceful. It also stresses on the outcome of shared learning. Four strategic areas have been shown within this theory and they are: empowering girls, mobilising families and communities, providing services and establishing and implementing laws and policies. These four stratagem areas have been used by this organisation to demonstrate the kinds of operational interventions that are serving to avert child marriage and backing married girls worldwide.
Working unswervingly with female members of the society to provide them with the opportunity to develop skills and knowledge, to realise and implement their rights and advance support networks is a way that is adopted across the world to terminate child marriage. Adopting an empowerment tactic — backing up girls to become the means of change, aiding them envision what unconventional roles could look like in their communities and eventually facilitating them to forge their own pathway in life — can give birth to constructive endings for girls and their families. Most of the families and communities in rural areas view child marriage as an intensely imbedded practice that has been part of their culture for decades. In those areas, generations after generations have been in the same practice. Whether the practice is named as cultural or religious, it is often justified in the name of ‘safeguarding a girls’ or her family’s honour.’ Inevitably, by controlling her sexuality. For the desired change to happen, the values and norms which upkeep the practice of child marriage needs to change. Working with families and the wider community and influencing their consciousness about the harmful consequences of child marriage can make change and help eliminating this. Laws and policies have a role to play in preventing child marriage. Many countries do not have any vigorous legal and policy bases which can thwart this evil practice and aid married girls. A durable legal and policy system can deliver an imperative setting for progresses in services. However, for this conversion to be truly sustainable, governments must show resilient political headship.
The Human Rights Watch also reported that the focus now must be on containing the damage caused by the government of Bangladesh by legalising child marriage. Heather Barr, senior researcher on women’s rights at Human Rights Watch mentioned that carefully drafted regulations can mitigate some of the harm to girls. Human Rights Watch in the World Report of 2015 on Bangladesh found serious gaps in access to information about family planning, and access to contraception for young people in Bangladesh. Hence, it is recommended that the government of Bangladesh should expeditiously turn to drafting regulations putting forward the conditions in which children under 18 can get married. It should also detail the standards and principles that judges should adhere to when reviewing requests to authorise child marriages. The government may draft these regulations discussing with organisations working on child marriage and on children’s rights. The regulation should be restricted to safeguard the best interest of children.
The HRW also recommended that a social worker be allocated for each case who may assist the judge and follow through with services and support for girls. Prior to approving a child marriage, the judge should ensure that girls pursuing to marry have been provided all-inclusive facilities. These facilities may include helping to continue school, social service support for them and their families, and comprehensive reproductive health information and services. It also suggested that judges, along with social workers, may interview girls outside the presence of their family and intended husband and in-laws to determine whether the girl is adequately matured to take this decision. From the interview, it should also be determined, if the girl genuinely wishes to marry and the same is based on fully informed consent. When judges do approve child marriages, the girl who will get married may be under the supervision of social and health services. These services should be accountable for keeping consistent communication with her to make sure that she gets reproductive health care. These services should also be responsible for dealing with any difficulty that the girl experiences after marriage.
Judges and social workers may go under particular teaching to conduct these steps. Judges may also need training to monitor for cases of sexual violence in order to make certain that girls do not become rape-victims. It must be clearly understood by every member of a society that any complain of non-consensual sexual contact shall lead to a criminal investigation. Judges must be unmistakably inculcated that they do not permit this law to be used for compelling girls who have been raped to marry their attackers under any circumstance. Heather Barr stated that judges are the last lifeline against this law being used to force girls into marriage against their will, or even allow rapists to escape penalty by marrying their victims. She continued that the government should deliver clear and unambiguous guideline for judges in order to ensure that this provision is used hardly ever and with great cautious.
If these options are sincerely considered by the government of Bangladesh, then we may again see the light of hope and ultimately move towards ending child marriage in our country.
Tasmiah Nuhiya Ahmed is an advocate at the Supreme Court and research assistant (law) at the Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs.
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