U.N. Committee Calls on Bangladesh to End Child Marriage and Address Adolescent Health

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(PRESS RELEASE) The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has called on the government of Bangladesh to take active measures to end child marriage and to improve access to adolescent friendly health services.

In light of recent draft legislation seeking to lower the legal age of marriage or permit judicial authorization for girls below the age of 18, the U.N. Committee called for the government of Bangladesh to keep the minimum legal age of marriage at 18 years and prosecute anyone who authorizes child marriage. The Committee also urged the state to adopt a comprehensive sexual and reproductive health policy for adolescents and to ensure that sexual and reproductive health education is part of the mandatory school curriculum for adolescents with “special attention to preventing early pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.”

The Center submitted a letter to the U.N. Committee condemning child marriage and the continuum of reproductive rights violations stemming from the illegal practice, including early pregnancy, lack of access to reproductive health services, denial of reproductive autonomy and marital rape.

Said Melissa, Upreti, regional director for Asia at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“All women and girls deserve to decide for themselves when to get married and start a family—and get the reproductive health services they need when they need it.

“Yet discriminatory practices and cultural norms still hinder young girls from making these choices, placing their health, and even their lives, at serious risk.

“The government of Bangladesh should abide by these U.N. recommendations to ensure that young girls aren’t given away in marriage as children and that victims of child and forced marriages receive adequate legal protection if they decide to end the marriage.”

In its recommendations, the U.N. Committee called for the government of Bangladesh to eliminate cultural norms, practices and traditions, including child marriage, that exacerbate gender stereotypes, discrimination, and violence against women and girls. The Committee also called for the state to develop awareness campaigns and sensitization programs on the harmful effects of early marriage on the physical and mental health and well-being of girls, as well as the establishment of protection schemes for victims of child and forced marriages who file a complaint. 

According to UNICEF, more than half of girls are married by age 18 in Bangladesh and the country has the highest rate of girls married under the age of 15. Bangladesh's 2011 Demographic and Health Survey found that sixty percent of women are mothers by the age of 19.

In 2013, the Center issued the report Child Marriage in South Asia: Stop the Impunity examining the human rights implications of child marriage, which subjects girls to heinous abuses, including domestic violence and marital rape, placing their reproductive health and survival at serious risk. The report criticizes the failure of governments in South Asia to prevent and prosecute cases of child marriage, which has led to a situation of impunity and egregious violations of human rights.​ The Center has contributed to the development of the Regional Action Plan to End Child Marriage in South Asia, spearheaded by the South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children, and the Kathmandu Call for Action to End Child Marriage in South Asia in 2014.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has built a significant presence throughout Asia, with major initiatives such as the South Asia Reproductive Justice and Accountability Initiative which focuses on promoting the use of the law and legal strategies to protect and promote women’s reproductive rights in the region. The Center—which opened a Nepal office in 2012—has undertaken advocacy at the U.N. as well as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation to strengthen regional accountability for child marriage.

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