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September 21, 2012 / Man in the Mirror

Reuters: Bangladesh’s family laws fuel female poverty – rights group

By Nita Bhalla

NEW DELHI (TrustLaw) – Laws on marriage, separation, and divorce in Bangladesh discriminate against women and girls in abusive marriages, often driving them into poverty when their marriages fall part, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said in a new report released on Monday.

The report titled “Will I get my dues before I die?” spotlights various personal laws covering Hindu, Muslim and Christian family matters in Bangladesh, showing how they fail to recognise a wife’s contribution in the marital home as well as her right to an equal share property at the time of divorce.

“Bangladesh is world famous for programs meant to reduce women’s poverty, yet for decades it has ignored how discriminatory personal laws drive many women into poverty,” Aruna Kashyap, Asia researcher for women’s rights and author of the report, said in a statement.

“With many women precariously housed or struggling to feed themselves when their marriages break down, Bangladesh should immediately reform its personal laws, fix its family courts, and provide state assistance to poor women.”

The report – based on interviews with over 250 people including aggrieved women, judges, family court lawyers, women’s rights experts and government officials – said the archaic personal laws trap women in abusive marriages because they have no recourse to ensure an income.

It documented cases of women such as Shefali, a Muslim woman, whose husband kicked her and made her stand outside naked on a winter night as punishment for complaining when he chose to take a second wife. He eventually abandoned her and left her with no financial support although she had given birth to his children.

It is not just Bangladesh’s Muslim women that face discrimination, said HRW, detailing how financial exclusion in family laws are also pushing such minorities as abandoned Christian and Hindu women into a hand-to-mouth existence.

More than 55 percent of girls and women in Bangladesh over the age of 10 are married. Many people see marriage as a form of economic security.

“The suffering that women go through only Allah knows,” the report said, quoting an unnamed Muslim woman who struggled to afford housing and food after her husband left her.

“I wish Allah could make us men not women.”

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