According to UNICEF, Bangladesh has the fourth highest rate in child marriages across the world with 65% of girls getting married before the age of 18, and 29% before the age of 15. This comes as a surprise since child marriage has been banned in Bangladesh since 1929, and the minimum age of marriage has been set at 18 for women since the 1980s. Till today, child marriages persist in Bangladesh with little indication that the situation will improve any time soon.
Child marriages in Bangladesh continue to exist despite it being banned because of the dowry practice. As older girls pay a higher dowry, many poor families try to marry off their daughters as soon as they can. Destitute families also marry their daughters off in the hope that their daughters will be protected, fed, and maybe even given an education — all things they are unable to provide for them on their own. As a result, child marriages are not only accepted, but expected in many communities.
Some of the consequences of getting married at a young age are the discontinuation of secondary education, violence and abuse from spouses and in-laws, and health dangers associated with pregnancies at a young age. Bangladesh is a party to different international treaties such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and is therefore obligated to protect the rights of girls and women. However, child marriage clearly violates the rights to free and full consent to marriage, to choose one’s spouse, and to be free from physical, mental, and sexual violence.
No one knows when child marriages in Bangladesh will cease to exist. Though the country’s prime minister promised to end child marriage by 2041, that is still a long time from now, and little has been done to reform and enforce laws that could make it a reality. Should authorities enforce the accurate verification of a person’s age to determine if they are old enough to legally marry, child marriages could possibly end. However, Human Rights Watch’s research found that many local officials receive bribes to issue false birth certificates that lie about the bride’s age. When marriages are actually prevented by local officials, families still find ways to hold the marriage in a different district.