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Thursday, July 9, 2015, Ashar 25, 1422 BS, Ramadan 21, 1436 Hijr

Girls' marriage age remains 18
Minister alleys fear of age reduction
Published :Thursday, 9 July, 2015,  Time : 12:00 AM  View Count : 23
Banani Mallick
The EU ambassador in Dhaka on Tuesday said 18 years must be the marriage age for girls and 16 should only be an exception, not the other way round.
Pierre Mayaudon made this comment while speaking at an EU-Unicef joint launching of child rights toolkit in the capital.
Referring to his comment Meher Afroz Chumki, State Minister for Women and Children Affairs told the Daily Observer, the government had finally decided not to lower girls' marriage age.
"We are not going to decrease girl's marriage age from 18 to 16. The marriage age will be 18. And it is confirmed," she said.
Her comment came at a time when government is being severely criticized by the representatives of civil society for its move to bring down girl's marriageable age from 18 to 16.
Earlier, the government had decided to include a clause in the Child Marriage Restraint Act allowing parents to marry off their 16-year-old girls as long as they have justifiable reasons behind the decision.
Very recently Human Rights Watch (HRW), an American-based research and advocacy rights organisation, suggested that poverty was the main reason why girls were married off at a young age, a situation compounded by the country's vulnerability to natural disasters.
Bangladesh has the fourth highest rate of child marriage in the world, behind Niger, Central African Republic and Chad.
The UN children's agency, Unicef, estimates that in 2011 of the women aged between 20 and 24, 65 per cent were married before the age of 18, and 29 per cent before they turned 15.
Dr Maleka Banu, General Secretary of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad said that decreasing marriage age will be disastrous for women development.
"When we are trying to improve women's status, just then government's decision to decrease girl's marriage age will be a disaster," she said.
Early marriage will severely limit a girl's access to education and economic opportunities and will increase girl's vulnerability to health risks, poverty and domestic violence, she noted.  
Every year, an estimated 14 million girls worldwide under 18 are married without their consent.
Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of early marriages in the world. According to UNICEF, two of every three girls will be married before they reach 18 years of age. This rate is higher than that of the South Asian region -65 per cent for Bangladesh compared to 48 per cent for the whole region.
Poverty, lack of education and awareness are still widespread in rural areas, which also impede lives of many young girls living in urban slums or in virtual homelessness.
"These problems need to be redressed soon through both government and private initiatives," Maleka Banu said.
Explaining the new toolkit, the EU envoy said, "The child is indeed central" to the EU's three pillars of the ongoing Seven-Year Development Plan in Bangladesh.
He also added that new challenges wait when a 10-year-old child of today would become a teenager in a middle-income Bangladesh.
He found climate change, corruption and child marriage as the new challenges for the country.
"A lot of things need to be done to bring child rights to an acceptable level," he noted.
He also ensured that his organization would provide all assistance to the youths of this country for a better future.
Syed Monjurul Islam, Secretary of Ministry for Health and Family Welfare, said that more than 30 per cent early married girls become mothers during their teens and about a fourth of them end up bearing a second child.
"They become mothers even when they need more maturity to face life. It is sad to experience that girls who get married off in their childhood do not have knowledge of what awaits them in the new environment in-law's home," he said.
Bangladesh has ratified the UN Child Rights Convention that says everyone is a child until the age of 18.

Editor : Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury
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