Poverty and traditional Islamic culture are the main causes. 55% of brides are under 18 years of age; 18% under 15. A new law would allow the wedding in “special circumstances” to save the honor of the girls. Three stories of child marriages.
Dhaka (AsiaNews) – “I lost my childhood, I wanted to go to school. I loved studying, but my parents
received a good proposal and organized the wedding despite my opposition”, Sumi Akter, 17 year old Muslim girl married off when she was 14 tells AsiaNews. Hers is one of many cases of child marriage, a scourge that afflicts the whole of Bangladesh society.
Poverty and traditional Islamic culture are the main factors driving families to arrange marriage for girls at an early age. The phenomenon cuts across all religious communities, except for Catholics who do not support early marriages.
The practice is especially widespread in the Islamic community. Sumi today is the mother of a two year old, has two sisters and two brothers. She said that her father, a simple worker, “could not carry on maintaining the family. So they made me marry hiding my real age. ” She risked her life at birth, due to severe bleeding. She’s was care of, but the child was born under-weight and has had several problems. For all these reasons, she says, “I strongly oppose the passage of the law authorizing the marriages before age 18”.
The reference is to a law approved last month by the Dhaka authorities. According to the draft of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act – 2016, the juvenile marriages will be permitted only in “special circumstances”, such as “accidental or illegal pregnancies”, so as “to save the honor of the girl.”
According to current provisions, the legal age for marriage is 21 years for males and 18 for females. Several activists complain that the bill would legalize forced marriages to repair for pregnancies that are the result of sexual violence, which is widespread in the country.
Official figures show that Bangladesh is the Asian country with the highest rate of child brides. 52% of brides are under 18 years old and 18% under 15 years old.
The juvenile marriages also affect the Hindu community. Bristy Rani was married at 16 years with a boy of 25. Her parents have chosen marriage as a means to “ensure my safety. When I was in school I was the target of several guys who made me marriage proposals and insulted me. Given the situation, my family members agreed. ” According Bristy, poverty and insecurity would push parents to arrange the marriage of their daughters. “Bangladesh is not a safe place for girls – she says – and we cannot move freely. Government and associations must reduce poverty”.
In the Catholic community in general there are few incidents of early marriages. Church authorities do not support the marriage of minors. The rare exception is to Probitro Rozario and Pronoti Gomes (fictional names), spouses at age 16. The local Church has allowed their marriage because Pronoti was pregnant. Irrespective of their case, Probitro believes that “juvenile marriages are wrong. The Church has to transmit good values to pupils, teaching Christians not contract marriage in childhood. ”
Few things are more abundantly attested in Islamic law than the permissibility of child marriage. Islamic tradition records that Muhammad’s favorite wife, Aisha, was six when Muhammad wedded her and nine when he consummated the marriage:
“The Prophet wrote the (marriage contract) with Aisha while she was six years old and consummated his marriage with her while she was nine years old and she remained with him for nine years (i.e. till his death)” (Bukhari 7.62.88).
Another tradition has Aisha herself recount the scene:
The Prophet engaged me when I was a girl of six (years). We went to Medina and stayed at the home of Bani-al-Harith bin Khazraj. Then I got ill and my hair fell down. Later on my hair grew (again) and my mother, Um Ruman, came to me while I was playing in a swing with some of my girl friends. She called me, and I went to her, not knowing what she wanted to do to me. She caught me by the hand and made me stand at the door of the house. I was breathless then, and when my breathing became all right, she took some water and rubbed my face and head with it. Then she took me into the house. There in the house I saw some Ansari women who said, “Best wishes and Allah’s Blessing and a good luck.” Then she entrusted me to them and they prepared me (for the marriage). Unexpectedly Allah’s Apostle came to me in the forenoon and my mother handed me over to him, and at that time I was a girl of nine years of age. (Bukhari 5.58.234).
Muhammad was at this time fifty-four years old.
Marrying young girls was not all that unusual for its time, but because in Islam Muhammad is the supreme example of conduct (cf. Qur’an 33:21), he is considered exemplary in this unto today. And so in April 2011, the Bangladesh Mufti Fazlul Haque Amini declared that those trying to pass a law banning child marriage in that country were putting Muhammad in a bad light: “Banning child marriage will cause challenging the marriage of the holy prophet of Islam, [putting] the moral character of the prophet into controversy and challenge.” He added a threat: “Islam permits child marriage and it will not be tolerated if any ruler will ever try to touch this issue in the name of giving more rights to women.” The Mufti said that 200,000 jihadists were ready to sacrifice their lives for any law restricting child marriage.
Likewise the influential website Islamonline.com in December 2010 justified child marriage by invoking not only Muhammad’s example, but the Qur’an as well:
The Noble Qur’an has also mentioned the waiting period [i.e. for a divorced wife to remarry] for the wife who has not yet menstruated, saying: “And those who no longer expect menstruation among your women, if you doubt, then their period is three months, and [also for] those who have not menstruated” [Qur’an 65:4]. Since this is not negated later, we can take from this verse that it is permissible to have sexual intercourse with a prepubescent girl. The Qur’an is not like the books of jurisprudence which mention what the implications of things are, even if they are prohibited. It is true that the prophet entered into a marriage contract with A’isha when she was six years old, however he did not have sex with her until she was nine years old, according to al-Bukhari.
Other countries make Muhammad’s example the basis of their laws regarding the legal marriageable age for girls. Article 1041 of the Civil Code of the Islamic Republic of Iran states that girls can be engaged before the age of nine, and married at nine: “Marriage before puberty (nine full lunar years for girls) is prohibited. Marriage contracted before reaching puberty with the permission of the guardian is valid provided that the interests of the ward are duly observed.”