State Minister for Women and Children Affairs Meher Afroz Chumki on Thursday said that the government would not reduce the marriagable age for girls and boys under the draft of Child Marriage Restraint Act, 2014 which was approved on September 15 this year.
"Although the written copy about the decision has not come yet, primarily we have decided not to decrease the marriage age of both girls and boys. After so many discussions we have come to this conclusion," she said on the sideline of the fifth National Conference of the Women Leaders Network organized by The Hunger Project-Bangladesh at Institution of Diploma Engineers in the city.
She also noted that the government was planning to amend some clauses for relaxing those points in the Act.
"We will not change the previous standard of marriage age. Therefore, we will keep some clauses so that some steps could be taken in future, if needed," she said.
"We have to consider the structure of our society and the life style of our people. Still a large number of people in our country are poor, ignorant and they need to be educated," Meher Afroz Chumki said.
Rights activists and women activists raised a storm of protests just after the approval of the draft Child Marriage Restraint Act 2014 by the Cabinet reducing the previous marriage age range of 21 for boys and 18 for girls to 18 and 16 respectively.
Girl's marriage age should be considered, realizing the weather of a country, Meher Afroz Chumki, earlier observed while talking to this correspondent just after the approval by the Cabinet.
"Our girls grow physically faster due to our weather pattern," she claimed.
However, Tariq-ul-Islam, Secretary, Ministry of MoWCA said girls' marriage age will not be decreased when Advocate Maksuda Aktar Laily, Director (Legal Advocacy of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad), made a query at a Multi -Sectoral Planning Implementation meeting which was held very recently at the secretariat.
Concerns were raised by all stakeholders about the very negative effects of reducing the marriageable age for girls.
Referring to the Prime Minister's recent statement at the Girl Summit that child marriages would be eliminated within a set period of time, human rights activists noted that it would be difficult to maintain her commitment if the minimum age of marriage was reduced.
Similarly, the experts observed that it would be difficult for the government to fulfill the commitments of the government pledges made in line with the Constitution, Children's Act 2013, CEDAW and CRC.
Under the existing Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 (amended in 1984), the legal age of marriage for boys is 21 and for girls 18.
Bangladesh Mahila Parishad (BMP) has protested the government's proposal to reduce the minimum age of girls for marriage to 16, and that of boys to 18 in the draft of the Child Marriage Restraint Act.
A total of 68 women, Human Rights and Development based organizations expressed their solidarity with them.
According to the Children's Act 2013, anyone under 18 years is considered a child in line with the guidance provided under the CRC. So if the law is enacted with girls' marriageable age being 16, it will legalize child marriage.
Bangladesh ratified both conventions -CEDAW and CRC, which are fundamental to ensuring the rights of children and women. Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), governments are committed to ensuring the overall protection of children and young people under 18.
The CEDAW Committee has also reiterated its concern that child marriage continues to be practised widely, particularly in rural areas.
The government's recent report under the Beijing +20 Process says, "Despite the increase in age at marriage for both males and females the proportion of women marrying early is high. The prevalence of child marriage and early pregnancy is another major concern having an intergenerational impact with undernourished teenage mothers having underweight children who are at greater risk of malnutrition."