[JURIST] The Bangladesh Parliament [official website] on Monday passed revisions to the Child Marriage Restraint Act [materials], allowing girls under the age of 18 to be married under “special circumstances.” The revisions do not change [Malay Mail Online report] the minimum marriage age requirements set in 1929. Instead, they designate a committee of local officials to review individual cases of underage marriage and determine whether they may be approved by the court. According to officials, the new law gives pregnant girls a legal escape from social ridicule. Rights groups have argued, however, that the law may further enable [NYT report] families to arrange child marriages. According to reported studies, marriages have rarely been arranged as a result of pregnancies. Advocacy groups such as Plan International [official website] have claimed that the law already properly discouraged arranged marriages and did not require revision. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] has previously stressed that such changes send a dangerous message the government permits child marriages. According to some critics the revisions were intended to appeal to the Islamist conservative electorate. Islamist groups have thus far praised the law, claiming that it aligns with religious traditions. Amidst these legal changes, Bangladesh still has one of the highest rates of child marriages in the world.
In recent years the practice of child marriage has been criticized internationally. Last July officials in Gambia and Tanzania banned the practice of child marriage [JURIST report]. In November the Guatemalan Congress approved legislation [JURIST report] to raise to legal age for marriage to 18. In April of last year Malawi raised the minimum marriage age to 18 [JURIST report] for both boys and girls. The move came after HRW called on Malawi to end the practice [JURIST report], detailing how child marriage exposes girls to domestic and sexual violence. In 2014 Bangladeshi officials approved [JURIST report] the Child Marriage Prevention Act of 2014, requiring a two-year jail term for any person who marries a girl under the age of 18.