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Marriage customs in Bangladesh vary by region complicating national-level efforts to eliminate some of the more harmful practices, such as early marriage and dowry demands, that undermine the status of women. Efforts to reform marriage must consider economic concerns, social traditions, and social activism. Early marriage—often involving girls as young as 10—has been widely recognized in Bangladesh and elsewhere as a human rights offense. The current legal age at marriage is 18 for women and 21 for men, yet age restrictions are difficult to enforce because Bangladesh lacks an official birth registration system that can verify age. By studying the circumstances of marriage and its consequences among vulnerable and poor households in rural Bangladesh, the Population Council has developed a nuanced understanding of the relationships between women’s status, gender-based violence, early marriage, and the rise of dowry. Highlights from studies on marriage practices undertaken in Bangladesh from 2001–06, detailed in Promoting Healthy, Safe, and Productive Transitions to Adulthood Brief No. 31, yield some insight into potential policy approaches.






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