Ending Impunity for Child Marriage in Bangladesh: A Review of Normative and Implementation Gaps

Bangladesh continues to have one of the highest child marriage rates worldwide, and the highest rate of marriage involving girls under 15. Among women between the ages of 20-49, 71 percent are married by age 18. Over the last three decades, there has been a slow and steady decline in the age at which Bangladeshi women first marry, from a median age of 15 years for women in their mid to late 40s to 17 years for those in their early 20s. In spite of the progress, however, the evidence shows that child marriage continues to occur on a large scale in Bangladesh, and women and girls continue to suffer from the human rights violations that result from the practice.

Child marriage in Bangladesh is governed by a series of laws. The recently enacted Child Marriage Restraint Act of 2017 (2017 CMRA) replaced an older piece of legislation from the colonial era, the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 (1929 CMRA). The 2017 CMRA sets the minimum age of marriage at 18 years for girls and 21 for boys. In addition to the 2017 CMRA, there are a series of religious-based personal laws that impute different requirements and circumstances when it comes to ascertaining children’s, particularly girls’, rights in relation to marriage. Due to gaps and loopholes in the law, as well as numerous obstacles to implementation further analyzed in this publication, child marriage persists in Bangladesh in spite of the legal prohibition.