Marriage Rights are about more than the freedom to choose whether, when, and whom to marry. Under international law, Marriage Rights also include the right to have one’s marriage officially recorded, the right to terminate the marriage, and equal rights for men and women both during a marriage and at its dissolution.
Yet, in many societies, women are still routinely denied their right to leave an abusive spouse or end an unhappy marriage. Take, for example, Bangladesh, where Hindu women cannot inherit assets or property, obtain a divorce, or claim spousal support (in the event that their husbands divorce them). 22-year-old Rani asks AFP:
Is it a crime to be born a Hindu girl? I can’t inherit any property. I can’t divorce my husband and remarry even though he left me for another woman and beat me all the time.
Because Hindu marriages are not officially recorded in Bangladesh, it is virtually impossible for a Hindu wife to prove that she is married; and, without proof of marriage, she cannot pursue a divorce or maintenance. Attorney and human rights advocate Nina Goswami told AFP that many Hindu women consequently find themselves in extreme poverty when their husbands dump them:
At the moment, when a Hindu man walks out on a marriage, the wife can’t sue him for alimony or maintenance because lack of marriage papers make it almost impossible to prove that they were married at all. Tens of thousands of Hindu men keep multiple wives, knowing that they can’t be prosecuted. Unfortunately, these women don’t exist in the government’s eyes and ears.
According to NY Daily News, a new Hindu marriage registration bill introduced into Parliament and approved by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is designed to reduce polygamy and protect the rights of women like Rani. The bill, which is expected to pass into law, is an important step in the right direction but will not, by itself, protect the full array of fundamental marriage rights to which every person is entitled.