Bangladesh: Marriage certificates no longer need ‘virgin’ declaration

Muslim brides in Bangladesh will no longer have to declare whether they are virgins on marriage certificates, the country’s high court has ruled.

Activists hailed Sunday’s decision as a landmark ruling and an important step towards more gender equality.

Under Bangladesh’s Muslim marriage and divorce laws, a bride has to select from one of three options on the certificate: kumari (which means virgin), widow or divorced. Grooms are not required to declare their marital status.

Rights groups, three of which filed the petition against the term in 2014, have long described the term as discriminatory and a breach of privacy for women getting married.

That changed Sunday when the high court ordered the word ‘kumari’ be replaced with ‘unmarried.’ The other two options on the form remain unchanged.

The court also said that grooms will now have to disclose their marital status, Aynun Nahar Siddiqua, one of the lawyers representing the case’s petitioners, told CNN.

“The judge agreed that it is a violation of women’s privacy and fundamental rights,” Siddiqua said about the term, which has been used on marriage certificates since 1961.

‘Historic decision’

A full version of the verdict will only be released in mid-October and it is unclear whether Bangladesh’s government will comply with the court’s order.

“I’m still waiting to receive a copy of the honorable court’s judgment,” Anisul Huq, Bangladesh’s minister of law, justice and parliamentary affairs, told CNN. “Let it come and once I go through the wording of the order, I’ll decide and respond.”

“This is a historic decision,” Bangladeshi lawyer and rights activist Nahar Kamrun told CNN. “As far as our constitution is concerned, men and women are equal, but in practice, for example, these marriage forms, that is not the case.”

“In our country, women do not have the same status as men … This is a reminder for the policymakers — when they make any kind of laws or administrative rules — that men and women are equal.”

An April report by the World Bank found that while Bangladesh is one of the few South Asian countries to have increased female employment in the last decade, more could be done to increase gender equality.

The country also has the fourth-highest prevalence of child marriage in the world, according to campaign group Girls Not Brides.

In 2017, rights groups criticized Bangladeshi lawmakers for passing legislation that allowed girls under the age of 18 to be married off by their parents if it was in their “best interests.”

CNN’s Sugam Pokharel reported from New Delhi and Tara John wrote from London.