In Bangladesh, the practice of forced marriage is significantly acute and has become a major problem. In a report published in February 2015, UNICEF noted that Bangladesh had the second-highest child marriage rate in the world, with nearly 70% of girls entering into marriage before reaching the age of 18. Although the Child Marriage Restraint Act sets the age pattern of consent for marriage at 18 years of age for females and 21 years of age for males, this law generally remains inapplicable and remains unenforced. Additionally, many under-aged girls are secretly married off by their parents on regular basis. Unfortunately, there are no clear cut laws in Bangladesh banning forced marriages of an adult. Human Rights Watch, in its 2015 progress report, notes that Bangladesh's human rights situation including forced marriage issue worsened in the year 2014 and suggests that the government often shields officials from accountability.
The vast majority of our population follows mostly uncodified laws based on the religious law or customs of the community (e.g. - Sariah law for the majority Muslim population, Hindu law for the Hindu minority). As a result, misperception exists among citizens and members of the legal community over the dual application of country's laws and religious laws. Throughout Bangladesh, it is also still the customary norm and religious practice for parents/guardians to arrange and negotiate marriages. In furtherance, the age of an individual at the time of the marriage cannot be easily proved due to rampant noncompliance with birth registration laws. Amazingly, some guardians take resort to forgery of affidavits. In other words, divorce can be challenging to access for both men and women as procedural hurdles of law can make it a costly and time-consuming process. Judicial divorce is also not recognized for Hindus under the legal system of Bangladesh.
Risk factors & Protection-
Despite some protections for women and girls facing forced marriage or other threats of violence in Bangladesh, corruption, and other barriers can place victims at risk any time. Let us take an example. In 2010, the Bangladesh parliament passed the Domestic Violence (Protection and Prevention) Act. The Act itself criminalized domestic violence, but it remains largely unenforced because of lack of awareness of the law as well as many women's fear of reporting. There is also a risky provision of fines and imprisonment to victims if their accusations are proven untrue.
Local police often play a crucial role in the prevention of forced marriages. They are given a task for providing assistance to victims of all type including potential victims. To support their activities, Bangladesh Government has set up some special response units to deal with cases of violence against women. The units employ female officers (with help from the district police if necessary) to enforce search warrants to rescue victims and conduct investigations. But these all do not suffice to be the complete package. Despite the efforts of Bangladesh Government to combat violence and other crimes against women especially forced marriage, enforcement issue remains an unaddressed problem. NGOs working in the country frequently give a report that Bangladeshis have to pay bribes to police in order to receive services and protection, and claim that police "rarely enforce existing laws protecting women. However, to draw a solution line, in some forced marriage cases, police may take the side of the victim's family, and collude with the family to move the marriage along or keep the victim in the country by setting up lookouts at the border. Besides, Police may conduct interviews with forced marriage victims in the presence of their families, or they may treat forced marriage claims as internal family matters rather than involving potential criminal acts.
By the way, though forced marriage seems an apple of dispute in the eye of Islamic provisions and societal perception, the term "forced marriage" needs sufficient analysis and clarification. Geographical characteristics abound a Bangladeshi girl in early puberty. She might have the sense of taking a decision whether to marry or not. Even, she sometimes becomes aware to determine whether her body can allow cohabitation with a husband or not. So, "forced marriage" is a variable object that varies from girl to girl, not a constant object. It is well encouraged in religion that female/girl has every choice to agree or disagree while choosing her life mate. Let not pay heed to the society's talk, let the girls and their parents do according to community law, ethics and morality.
Khairul Islam Taj is a Ex-Law student of DU & a "Law Mate" researcher