This memorandum discusses the context, causes, consequences, and legal framework of child marriage in Bangladesh
This memorandum examines the occurrence of child marriage in Bangladesh and explores its link with sexual harassment. Bangladesh has one of the highest occurrences of child marriage in the world. This high rate of marriage of girls below the age of 18 is due to a variety of causes, including patriarchal social mores, parental desire to safeguard girls against premarital sex and out-of-wedlock pregnancies (and the associated social stigma associated with these), and poverty, linked with the perception of girls as an economic burden. In addition to these more widely known causes of early marriage, the widespread prevalence of severe and public sexual harassment in Bangladesh is gaining attention as an important, albeit lesser-studied cause of child marriage.
This memorandum discusses the link between child marriage and birth and marriage registration. Section I of this memorandum focuses on birth registration, including the importance of registration, government and civil society birth registration initiatives in Bangladesh and the factors that perpetuate low rates of birth registration and recommendations for overcoming them. Section II briefly introduces marriage registration, the unreliability of which also contributes to Bangladesh’s high rates of child marriage.
This Memorandum discusses the impact of personal laws on the treatment of child marriage within Bangladesh. Bangladesh’s antiquated personal laws relating to marriage fail to protect children,reinforce support for early marriage, and directly contradict statutory law in Bangladesh. Examining Bangladesh’s current legal framework highlights the problematic influence that discriminatory personal laws have on the fulfillment of national and international obligations concerning child marriage.
This memorandum examines the exploitation of child domestic workers in Bangladesh and the ties between child domestic labor and trafficking.
This memorandum examines the public policy considerations raised by child domestic labor and the exploitation of child domestic workers.
International Case Law
A 7-year-old Bangladeshi girl who had been raped by a neighbor was taken by her parents to receive medical treatment and submit a statement to authorities. Thereafter a judge misinterpreted a law regarding the committal of victimized children and sent the young girl to a government-run safe home, preventing her from being returned to her parents’ custody. The High Court found that the judge had acted illegally and this case was taken as an example of the urgent need for Bangladesh to update is legal code in compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), signed by Bangladesh in 1990. The High Court made great strides towards defending the rights of the child with recommendations including child-specific courts in each district, mandatory knowledge of relevant law codes for justice officials who deal with children, and new laws aligned with the CRC.
Domestic Case Law
In this case the Bangladesh Supreme Court responded to a petition by the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association and handed down a set of directives aimed at addressing public sexual harassment (known euphemistically as "eve teasing"). These directives included stating formal definitions of "sexual harassment" and "stalking" to be used henceforth in addressing this problem, mandating a designated cell or team housed within each police station to address sexual harassment, mandating the government to require photo identification from users of cyber cafes to address cyber harassment and stalking, mandating immediate government steps to initiate victim and witness protection systems as well as programs to redress mental trauma suffered by victims, and directing the government to "take immediate steps to formulate law or amend the existing law for incorporating specific provisions giving evidential value to the audio/video recorded statements of victims or witnesses of sexual harassment so that the perpetrators can be punished solely on the basis of such recorded evidence of sexual harassment in case of unwillingness of the victim or other witnesses to give evidence fearing further attack and humiliation and/or torture."
In an application under Article 102 of the Constitution, the Bangladesh National Women's Lawyers Association (BNWLA) petitioned the Supreme Court of Bangladesh (High Court Division) to address the exploitation and abuse endured by child domestic laborers in Bangladesh. The BNWLA argued that child domestic workers are subjected to economic exploitation, physical and emotional abuse, and the deprival of an education in violation of their fundamental constitutional rights. In support of these arguments, it presented multiple reports of extreme abuse suffered by child domestic workers. In deciding this case, the Court reviewed the current laws in Bangladesh, including the Labour Act, 2006, which fails to extend labor protections to "domestic workers," including children, and lacks an effective implementation and enforcement system. The Court directed the government of Bangladesh to take immediate steps to increase its protection of the fundamental rights of child domestic workers including prohibiting children under the age of twelve from working in any capacity including domestic settings; supporting the education of adolescents; implementing the National Elimination of Child Labour Policy 2010 and applying the Labour Act, 2006 to domestic workers. Additionally, the Court directed the government to monitor and prosecute incidents of violence against child domestic workers, maintain a registry of domestic workers and their whereabouts to combat trafficking, promulgate mandatory health check-ups and strengthen the legal framework relating to child domestic workers.