Bangladesh Continue to Practice Child Marriage Despite Laws

Bangladesh outlawed child marriage in 1929. Yet, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), sixty-six percent of girls in Bangladesh are married before they reach the age of eighteen.

The practice of child marriage is rooted in social tradition and economic need, but it has adverse effects on the health and education of girls. According to a report by the International Center for Research on Women, child brides are prone to suffer domestic violence and abandon school, and as a result of early pregnancy are susceptible to health complications.

The Law

When the Bangladesh government developed legislation that led to the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929, it considered various socio-cultural factors—such as poverty and societal values—that drive parents to marry off their young daughters.

Excerpt FeatureThe law criminalizes marriages when either party is a minor, classified as girls under eighteen and boys under twenty-one, and penalizes those who permit or aid such a marriage, including parents. Punishment for the crimes can be a fine and up to one month imprisonment.

Bangladesh’s laws on the issue are encompassed by its obligations, including The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which the State ratified in 1984 and prohibits child marriage in Article 16(2).

In 1998, Bangladesh acceded to the Convention on Consent to Marriage, which calls for the “full and free consent” of both parties in all legally binding marriages in Article 1. Article 2 requires states to set a minimum age for marriage. However, Bangladesh reserved its right to apply Articles 1 and 2 of the Convention concerning the issue of child marriage “in accordance with the Personal Laws of different religious communities of the country.” Allowing personal laws of religious communities to supersede international law sustains the practice of child marriage in Bangladesh.

The Law vs Cultural Influences

Adherence to these principles can be complicated in Bangladesh, where many villagers believe that marriage protects a girl’s chastity and is a divine command from God.

As explained by Farah D. Chowdhury, a political science professor in Bangladesh, in a 2004 article in the International Journal of Social Welfare, all females are obligated to become wives and raise a family and the sooner they are married, the sooner the obligation is fulfilled.

Additionally, the marriage of young, submissive, and obedient girls maintains the status quo of a patriarchal society. The older an unmarried girl becomes, the more her family will be shamed in the community.

Economic Advantage of Child Marriage

Beyond the religious and cultural influences, there is an economic advantage to marrying off girls at an early age. Girls are often considered a burden to families because of their financial dependence. Once a girl has been married, her husband and his family must provide for her, thus liberating her parents of their financial duty. When a family is impoverished, there is consequently a greater desire to marry off daughters at a younger age. Further, the parents lessen the financial strain of their daughters’ dowry since the younger the girl’s age at marriage, the smaller the dowry can be.

Bangladesh Does Little to Protect Child Rights

Despite the many laws that child marriage in Bangladesh continues to violate, Bangladesh has done little to enforce the laws and protect children’s rights.

One positive note is that the government does plan to register all marriages and births, which would provide greater oversight. However, Bangladesh’s reservation to the Convention on Consent to Marriage indicates the country is not ready to confront the differing practices based on religious communities. Embracing the whole of the convention both by dismissing the reservations and implementing procedures to enforce all obligations would broaden protection for the Bangladeshi people. Regardless of the existence of legislation to combat the tradition of child marriage in Bangladesh, insufficient enforcement of the laws will preserve the practice of child marriage to the detriment of young girls in the country.

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Every Three Seconds, A Girl is Traded as a Swara

Swara is a child marriage custom in tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. This custom is tied to blood feuds among the different tribes and clans where the young girls are forcibly married to the members of different clans in order to resolve the feuds. It is most common among Pashtuns. – Wikipedia.

The average age of swara girls is between 5 and 9-years-old, according to registered cases and local accounts. The reason provides an insight into the immense challenge in changing deep-rooted traditions in Pakistan: In tribal areas, a girl older than this is probably already promised to somebody else.

In Pakistan, at least 180 cases of swara were reported last year — every other day — thanks to the work of local journalists and activists. But there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of undocumented cases. Worldwide, an estimated 51 million girls below age 18 are married, according to the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW).

A further 10 million underage girls marry every year — one every three seconds, according to ICRW. The legal age to marry in Pakistan is 18 for boys but 16 for girls, though they can’t drive, vote, or open a bank account until adulthood. According to UNICEF, 70 percent of girls in Pakistan are married before then.

Swara FeatureMohammad Ayub, a British-trained psychiatrist from Lahore, has worked with child soldiers in Sudan and young Taliban recruits in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He now manages the Saidu Sharif Teaching Hospital in the Swat Valley, an area that came under the spotlight when terrorists attempted to kill 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai because of her struggle to promote girls’ education. “I saw small children holding guns bigger than themselves,” he says. “But these girls…. It’s just as tragic.”

Many child brides come to Ayub with severe pain, sometimes blinded or paralyzed — the effects of a psychiatric condition known as “conversion disorder.” Practically unknown in the West since the beginning of the 20th century, it has reached epidemic proportions in the tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, according to Ayub. It is a sort of psychological stress that manifests in physical ailments, including convulsions, paralysis, or fits.

“Here women don’t have a voice, particularly girls,” Ayub says. “She can’t say, ‘No, I don’t want this marriage’ … so she keeps it all inside, and eventually it will come out in the form of some physical distress. We receive loads of women here, three to four cases with the same symptoms every day only in my clinic, and I mean daily! Thirteen-, 14-year-old girls, all married.”

The rise of Islamic militancy in Pakistan could only make things worse. As extremists grow more powerful, they have started imposing their own draconian rules on society — including even more discrimination against women.

In 2004, the Pakistani parliament passed an amendment to Pakistan’s penal code making swara a crime punishable by up to ten years in prison. Since then, around sixty decisions made by jirgas involving swara girls have been prevented by local courts, though in most tribal areas the law still does not apply.

Part of this story was re-published from Foreign Policy. The original article was written by Adriana Carranca. Follow her on Twitter: @AdrianaCarranca.

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Afghan Women’s Political Power Revoked

Women’s rights in Afghanistan take yet another hit, as conservative male parliamentarians secretly remove a legal requirement that states women make up at least a quarter of all provincial elections.

According to Reuters, the change took place in mid-May but was only discovered by women parliamentarians a few days ago.

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Activists said it could also reduce the number of women serving in parliament’s upper house, as most women are elected there via their role as elected provincial officials.

“In negotiations you don’t gain anything unless you also give something up,” said prominent women’s rights activist and MP Farkhunda Naderi.

The action has sparked fears among women’s rights activists that President Hamid Karzai’s government is increasingly willing to trade away their hard fought gains to placate the Taliban as part of attempts to coax them to the peace table.

Women entered Afghanistan’s male-only political arena in 2001 soon after the overthrow of the Taliban regime by a U.S. led invasion.

At least a quarter of the seats in some 400 districts and 34 provincial councils had been set aside for women.

Karzai appointed 17 out of 28 women in the upper house, the remaining 11 must be chosen from among women sitting on district and provincial councils, but those positions are now under a cloud.

On May 22, the change was approved by parliament’s lower house, the Wolesi Jirga.

“(They) removed it without informing us. We trusted that the law we signed off on was the same as previous drafts,” said parliamentarian Fawzia Koofi.

The law still needs approval from the upper house and Karzai before being passed into law.

Critics of the change told Reuters its removal will not only affect women’s ability to serve in the upper house, but also do away with more than 100 seats in local government bodies nationwide that were previously guaranteed to women.

“Women are not in the position to win votes in this country based on popular vote alone, this amendment is worrisome  they’ll lose their voice,” said Noor Mohammad, spokesman for Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission.

Conservative male parliamentarians backing the change said the concept of granting rights based on their gender was unconstitutional.

“It’s undemocratic to grant a seat to a woman even though a man had more votes, simply because the law favors her,” said Qazi Nasir Ahmad Hanafi, head of the legislative commission.

This story was originally published by Reuters.

(Edited by Gillian Felix)

Young Reporters Fight Against Child Marriage

Fazal Haque, 15, student at Anchalik High School of Simina village in Kamrup district of Assam, and nine other boys and girls keep themselves busy by looking out for families who are marrying off their under-age daughters and intervene.

Fazal and his classmates Babar Ali, Aqib Hussain, Mamoni Begum, Karabi Kalita and Jyotsna Begum are members of a group called Asha Rengoni, which means ray of hope.

According to Aquib, at least 10 girls from their school dropped out because they were married off. “Their parents citing tradition as well as economic hardship,” said Aquib. So far they have intervened and stopped two child marriages.

Photo by

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The group is part of a program called Young Reporters Initiative; there are more than 90 groups in the districts of Kamrup and Dibrugarh. Some groups in the Dibrugarh district are running campaigns against child marriage.

Momi Munda, 18, member of the group said that many people, especially tea plantation laborers, don’t know that there is a minimum age for a girl’s marriage.

Young Reporters Initiative is run jointly by the Assam branch of Kasturba Gandhi National Memorial Trust (KGNMT) andUNICEF.

More than 1,000 children in the Kamrup and Dibrugarh districts have been included in the groups.

“It is a kind of multi-purpose initiative where we are not only talking about child rights directly with select groups of children, but also supporting them in taking rights-related issues to the community,” said Damayanti Devi, state secretary of KGNMT.

Young Reporters also conduct surveys and field reports on child labor, sanitation, safe drinking water, malnutrition, immunization, primary school education, mid-day meal, birth registration and delivery of various Integrated Child Development Services programs.

Last year, village elders at Sarulah in Hajo block of Kamrup district enlisted the help of the local Young Reporters group in mounting a campaign against drugs and liquor.

“The group not only helped coin slogans and cartoons against drugs and liquor, but also composed jingles and staged street plays,” said Himarani Baishya, coordinator of the project.

Recently, 15 children each from Dibrugarh and Kamrup carried out a random survey in two villages near Guwahati, during which they discovered several problems.

“The findings of these groups are published as news and features in Mukta Akash, a quarterly newsletter. This newsletter is not only distributed in schools, panchayats (Villages), clubs and mahila samitis (women’s group?) in the two districts, but is also sent to government functionaries, including the chief minister,” Damayanti Devi said.

Many of these reports have had an impact. In Dibrugarh district, a wooden bridge which had been damaged by floods was repaired only after a Young Reporters group wrote about it.


Women’s Right To Property in Mongolia

Women’s right to property in Mongolia is a crucial part of growing an economy and a country. In Mongolia women now hold approximately 40 percent of land titles, an increase of 5 per cent since 2011.

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Baigalmaa Enebish of Erdenet, Mongolia is a single mother, and recently lived in a rented room in someone else’s home. She had no stable income and few employment opportunities.

Baigalmaa noticed that there were many women around her who were in the same situation, and invited them to join a group she formed called the Neighbors’ Friendship Cooperative to help solve its members’ housing problem.

“My desire to improve the living conditions of those who are in a similar condition as me motivated me to organize this cooperative,” said Baigalmaa, who has been the cooperative head since 2008.

With Baigalmaa’s help, the cooperative received several grants from international donors to build a fence, extend the electricity grid and dig wells. They wanted to apply for a loan from the Asian Coalition for Housing Project, but a lack of collateral prevented them from doing so. However a Property Rights Project contractor from MCA-Mongolia Rights informed them that they could own land via the MCA Mongolia Property Rights Project.

The project works to increase women’s awareness of the importance and benefits of owning land. TheMillennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) invested $15.7 million to improve the efficiency, accuracy and accessibility of the land privatization and property registration process to make it easier, faster and more cost-effective for Mongolian citizens to register and transfer land.

Through coordinated public outreach, project contractors, educate women on the value of land and how to use it as a valuable asset, including as collateral for bank loans.

In less than one month Baigalmaa acquired land.

“Previously, privatizing land seemed like a difficult goal to achieve, since we heard it’s a long and tedious process with heavy bureaucracy,” said Baigalmaa.

Normally the process would take 4-5 months, thanks to the assistance provided by the project the process was quicker.

“We knew very little about the whole complicated procedure. We were very happy when the contractor came and offered us assistance.” said Baigalmaa.

Under Baigalmaa’s leadership, other members of the cooperative received land titles through the project. With land as collateral, they finally received a housing loan that they are investing in building six houses and providing four gers (traditional dwellings) to other cooperative members.

“The contractor familiarized us with the process, collected our relevant materials, and soon we all received our land ownership certificates, which didn’t take any time and expense from our side. This was the helping hand that people like us needed.”  Baigalmaa added.

Looking toward the future the cooperative also plans to grow vegetables for household use. If they produce more than they need, they will sell the surplus.

10,000 people have registered their land, benefiting from a one-stop shop that saves them time and money. Land ownership is helping both men and women invest in their land and have greater access to economic opportunities.

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1000-Day Countdown to Global Education

The urgency of the 1,000-day countdown is doing exactly what we hoped: pressuring world leaders and businesses to sit up, take notice, and — most importantly — take action.

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Global leaders came together to hold ministerial-level meetings on education and to commit to concrete actions needed to achieve universal education by 2015.

Some of the most important voices — including youth leaders, more than 250 members of civil society organizations, the United Nations Global Education First InitiativeGlobal Partnership for EducationWorld Bankand USAID, just to name a few, were at the table for a series of events in Washington, D.C. — including one at the White House — where global education was at the top of the agenda. Now that we have the ear of these influential leaders, it’s time to keep pushing and build upon the work we have started. Read more here.

Girls Should Be Students Not Brides

Dear friends,

Did you know that child brides are twice less likely to attend school than girls who avoid early marriage? Girls who marry as children are denied their right to education and are deprived of the skills they need to lead fulfilling and prosperous lives.

We also know that educating girls is one of the most powerful tools to prevent child marriage. Girls who complete secondary school are 6 times less likely to marry as children.

So it’s clear, if we want to deliver quality education for all young people, we must address the needs of adolescent girls and child brides.

This is the message Girls Not Brides and our members will share at a High Level Summit on Education next week, where education and finance ministers from 8 developing countries will meet the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, the UN Secretary-General, and the World Bank President to discuss how to ensure more children stay in school.

We’ll encourage ministers to ensure child marriage prevention is integrated into their education, health, justice and social programmes, and to work with civil society organisations like Girls Not Brides members who are working directly with adolescent girls and their communities.

We all have our role to play in ending child marriage. Read more here.

Kenya Elects First Maasai Woman to Parliament

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On March 4, 2013 Kenya elected the first Maasai woman to parliament.  Peris  Pesi Tobiko, a 42-year-old mother of four was elected as a member of Parliament Kajiado East constituency. Read more here.

Early marriage vs education.

Tobiko grew up in the village of Mashuru in Kajiado county. She revealed that her community does not value the education of girls and that families try to marry off their daughters at a young age. Her father wanted to educate all his children, but gave in to public pressure when  he attempted to pull her out of school and marry her off to an older man.

My elder sisters were pulled out of school and married off, but I was lucky that teachers intervened in my case,” said Tobiko. “I was performing well, so teachers wanted to keep me in school.”

Afghanistan’s First Female Mayor – Part II

Plain Talk Bad Manners have moved to a new domain Please stop on by, look around and subscribe for free so you don’t miss any new articles. Here is the article for today Afghanistan’s First Female Mayor -Part II

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Court Orders Public Flogging For 15-Year-Old Rape Victim

Last year a 15-year-old girl from one of the islands in the Maldives was arrested and sentenced to 8 months house arrest and 100 lashes by the Maldives justice system.

Map edited by Gillian Felix. Photo by

Map edited by Gillian Felix. Photo by

Turns out the girl’s step-father had been raping her for years, while her mother turned a blind eye. When the girl got pregnant the two adults killed and buried the new born. Police discovered the body and arrested and charged the parents with murder and abuse of a minor. They also arrested the girl and charged her with fornication. They claimed that she confessed to having sex with another man who was not her step-father. The population on this particular island is less than one thousand, yet the identity of this man remains a mystery, and he has not been found.

The girl was sentenced, her mother and step-father’s case is still pending.

Under Sharia Law, both men and women whether adult or child, can be punished with 100 lashes and house arrest if they are found guilty of having pre-marital sex or adultery.  Part of the common law practiced alongside Sharia, is that no child below 13 can consent to sex and that any sexual relations will be deemed as child abuse. The same law also adds in Article 25, “Unless proven otherwise, it cannot be considered that a child between ages 13-18 had given consent to committing a sexual act. And unless proven otherwise, it will be considered that the sexual act was committed without the child’s consent.”

“I agree that there is a strong contradiction here. Also, the man has been sentenced under common law. The act he committed is criminalized under the existing laws, those drafted and passed through the parliament. The girl, on the other hand, has been sentenced under Sharia law, which is not specifically written down. There is a discrepancy in how men and women are sentenced. At times females face more difficulty denying charges of fornication. This, I believe is a structural issue which needs to be addressed.” Said lawyer Mohamed Shafaz Wajeeh.

There are only 2 kinds of admissible evidence for proving rape in that country, they are; a confession by the rapist or four male witnesses. As a result proving rape is impossible. According to the judicial statistics report of 2011, ninety percent of female rape victims are flogged. The report also showed that in the last 3 years, no cases of rape have reached a positive verdict.  This year only 3 rape cases have been reported meanwhile 1 in 3 women ages 15-49 have been a victim of physical or sexual abuse.

It is not uncommon for rape victims to take drastic measures such as self-induced abortions, infanticide or abandoning babies.

The girl charged will endure public flogging when she turns 18. Imagine the anguish of anticipating that on top of all that she has been through.

Here’s a petition you can sign urging the Maldives government to stop this atrocious act.

Sources: BBC, Minivan