Proposal to reduce Bangladesh marriageable age

Children in Bangladesh (file photo 2006) The government says that it wants to educate children on the dangers of marrying too young

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The Bangladeshi cabinet has proposed measures to lower the marriageable age for young men and women, while significantly toughening the penalty for violating the limits.

The proposals are in a bill likely to be approved by parliament.

It is suggested that the marriageable age for men be reduced from 21 to 18 and for women from 18 to 16.

The maximum penalty for breaking the law will be increased from two months in jail to two years.

The fine, currently $130 (£80) will go up five-fold.

Observers say the measures are aimed at combating child marriage, which is widespread in rural Bangladesh.

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Child marriages: A global problem
  • One in three girls in the developing world will be married by her 18th birthday
  • Current trends indicate that more than 140 million girls will be married as children by 2020
  • The problem is most acute in developing countries, where 12% of girls marry aged 15 and under
  • Girls from the poorest 20% of households are more than three times more likely to marry before they are 18 than those from the richest homes

Source: Plan International report 2013

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"Those who marry [underage], conduct such marriages, and the parents will be liable for punishment," Cabinet Secretary Muhammad Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan was quoted by local media as saying.

"But women will not be sentenced to a prison term."

Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, with 20% of girls becoming wives before their 15th birthday, the BBC's Angus Crawford reported in 2012.

Aid agencies have described the practice as a "new kind of slavery", made worse by the fact that some in the country see girls as a burden who do not earn an income.

Our correspondent reported that this attitude means they are totally dependent on their families to support, protect them and pay their dowries.

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