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Child marriage law, gender norms and marriage customs (Bangladesh)

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Abstract:

The negative welfare consequences of child marriage are well established, but the phenomenon is still ubiquitous in developing countries, where one in three girls is married before the age of 18. Although most countries have a legal minimum age of marriage set at 18 years, in practice marriage age in developing countries is determined by social norms.

In this paper, we test the hypothesis that formal laws can influence social norms – even when the laws are not enforced. We do this by administering a randomized video-based information treatment that accelerates knowledge transmission about a new child marriage law in Bangladesh which contains separate progressive and regressive components. We find evidence that our information treatments led to a change in participants’ own attitudes and behaviour (including reported attitudes regarding appropriate marriage age and willingness to contribute to a charity that campaigns against child marriage), but did not substantially influence their beliefs about attitudes or practices prevalent in their community. We use these findings to distinguish between alternative hypotheses for how the formal law may influence behaviour, arguing that they are consistent with “focal point” theory and “whistle-blowing”, but are inconsistent with the law having an “expressive effect”.

This EDI Working Paper is based on research for the case study on “Child marriage law, gender norms and marriage customs” in Bangladesh.

Authors:

  • Amrit Amirapu, University of Kent
  • M Niaz Asadullah, University of Malaya
  • Zaki Wahhaj, University of Kent

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