Bangladesh’s government has proposed measures to lower the marriageable age for 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 will go up five-fold.
Bangladesh’s government has proposed measures to lower the marriageable age for men and women, while significantly toughening the penalty for violating the limits
Observers say the measures are aimed at combating child marriage, which is widespread in rural Bangladesh.
“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 15 years old.
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.
The girls are totally dependent on their families to support, protect them and pay their dowries.
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Sahar Gul, a teenage bride from Afghanistan, who was tortured for months after her arranged marriage, has spoken out for the first time since her rescue, saying she hopes her husband and his family are jailed for her abuse.
15-year-old Sahar Gul became the bruised and bloodied face of women’s rights in Afghanistan after she was rescued in late December when an uncle called police.
Speaking in an interview on Saturday from a hospital in Kabul, Sahar Gul blamed her husband, his parents and his sister for her ordeal.
“I want them to be in jail,” the girl said.
“They gave me electric shock. … They beat me with cables and tortured me.”
Sahar Gul is being treated for multiple injuries that include broken fingers and ripped-out fingernails, the Associated Press reports.
15-year-old Sahar Gul became the bruised and bloodied face of women's rights in Afghanistan after she was rescued in late December when an uncle called police
Police in Baghlan province where Sahar Gul was rescued have said her in-laws locked her up and tortured her after she refused to work as a prostitute. Her husband’s parents and sister have been arrested. They deny any wrongdoing.
Authorities have issued an arrest warrant for her husband, who serves in the Afghan army.
Sahar Gul’s doctor, Feriba Omarzada, said the girl is recovering but is still traumatized.
The teenager’s story has shocked Afghanistan and prompted calls for more efforts to end underage marriage.
The legal marriage age in Afghanistan is 16, but the United Nations agency UN Women estimates that half of all girls are forced to marry under age 15.
Sahar Gul was in critical condition when she was rescued from a house in northern Baghlan province last week. Police say her in-laws pulled out her nails and hair, and locked her in a dark basement bathroom for about five months, with barely enough food and water to survive.
Sahar Gul husband’s family also burned her with cigarettes and cut out chunks of her flesh with pliers.
Local media reported today that Provincial Security Chief for northern Baghlan province General Syed Zamanuddin Hussaini revealed father-in-law Mohammad Aman was detained with the help of local residents in northern Pul-e-Khumri city.
General Hussaini added that Mohammad Aman was introduced to provincial attorney general and the Afghan security forces are struggling to find the husband of Sahar Gul.
In the meantime, Mohammad Aman has denied allegations of torturing Sahar Gul and said that she was suffering from psychological disorders.
After hearing of the abuse, Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai said those responsible would be punished.
Doctors say the girl has suffered both mentally and physically and will need weeks of treatment in order to recover.
“She was married seven months ago, and was originally from Badakhshan province. Her in-laws tried to force her into prostitution to earn money,” Rahima Zarifi, head of women’s affairs in Baghlan told Reuters.
Sahar Gul is covered in scars and bruises, with one eye still swollen shut six days after her rescue.
The girl is being treated in a government hospital in Kabul, but she may have to be sent to India, doctors said.
“This is one of the worst cases of violence against Afghan women. The perpetrators must be punished so others learn a lesson,” health minister Suraya Dalil told journalists after visiting Sahar Gul today with the women’s affairs minister.
Mohammad Zia, a senior police official in Baghlan, who helped to rescue the girl, said her mother-in-law and sister-in-law have been detained, but her husband had escaped.
“We have launched a serious hunt to get her husband and the others involved,” Mohammad Zia said.
Despite progress in women’s rights and freedom since the fall of the Taliban 10 years ago, women throughout the country are still at risk of abduction, rape, forced marriage and being traded as commodity.
However, it can be hard for women to escape violent situations at home, because of huge social and sometimes legal pressure to stay in marriages.
Running away from an abusive husband or a forced marriage are considered “moral crimes”, for which women are currently imprisoned in Afghanistan.
Some rape victims have also been imprisoned, because sex outside marriage, even when the woman is forced, is considered adultery, another “moral crime”.