SOAS University of London

Centre of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law

Bangladesh - Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK)

ASK - the Law and Mediation Centre - is a national human rights organisation based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. It is a membership organisation, established in 1986 by a group of lawyers, social activists, development activists and journalists. It works through six units, focusing on Advocacy, Child Rights, Gender and Social Justice, Legal Aid, Investigation, Outreach, Documentation and Research, Training, Communication and Popular Theatre. Registered with the NGO Bureau and the Societies Registration Act 1860, it also has consultative status with ECOSOC.

ASK has been involved in casework, advocacy and research and documentation on the issue of forced marriage, and specifically on violence against women, including the detention of women in 'safe custody', and personal law reform.

Background

Although Muslim personal law as applied in Bangladesh requires the consent of both (adult) parties to a valid marriage, and thus protects the right to marry, interference with this right remains pervasive throughout the country. This may occur in either of two contexts:

  • Where a woman has not chosen to exercise her right to marry but her parents impose a marriage upon her or
  • Where a woman has chosen to marry but her parents intervene to prevent her doing so.

In the second scenario, a woman may be detained in so called protective custody, in some cases in prison, following false charges being filed against her chosen spouse at the behest of her parents. Such cases concern both individuals within Bangladesh, as well as those from diasporic communities brought to Bangladesh for the purpose of forced marriage.

Aims

ASK's study will review the law and practice on forced marriage within Bangladesh, focusing on the question of consent and coercion and examining the practice largely among the Muslim community. It will reflect, through an in-depth analysis of case law, legal provisions and practice, the limitations within the existing legal system in protecting the right to marry.

The study will involve a consideration of the following issues:

  • The use of culture, traditional or customary practice and family or kinship ties to deny women's rights to free choice and mobility;
  • The interface of patriarchy and minority fears which act as constraints on women's autonomy in multi-religious and multi-cultural societies;
  • The cultural meaning of consent and free choice in marriage and
  • Legal rights and jurisprudence relevant to the issue of consent and free choice for women.
Activities

In particular, the ASK Study will involve:

  • A comparison of the relevant statutory provisions and personal laws applicable to the Muslim, Hindu and Christian communities, as well as among tribal groups - relating to requirements for marriage; the defence of provocation and of self defence;
  • A case-law based analysis of the treatment by the superior courts of questions of consent and coercion relating to marriage, based on reported judgments from 1971-2000;
  • An analysis of police station (thana) records, for two police stations to be identified (one in Dhaka and one in Sylhet), of forced marriage cases;
  • A report of interviews with key actors, e.g. community based organisations, women's rights organisations, human rights activists and organisations, lawyers, judges, shelter staff, police and jail authorities, British consular officials;
  • Documentation of five case studies of women subjected to or threatened by forced marriages, including women placed in protective custody, in the UK and Bangladesh as appropriate, based on court and police records;
  • A review of press reports on the issue of forced marriage; and
  • A national workshop on the issue of forced marriage, involving key actors - lawyers, government officials, journalists, women's rights organisations and activists.

ASK's research paper was presented at the International Meeting on Crimes of 'Honour' in February 2002, and will be included in the subsequent publication (for abstract of paper by Dina Siddiqi, based on the ASK study, see Publication).