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Bangladesh court rules women need not say if they are virgins on marriage forms

Gold wedding jewelry is laid out for a wedding on August 20, 2015 in Manikganj, Bangladesh.  .
Gold wedding jewelry is laid out for a wedding on August 20, 2015 in Manikganj, Bangladesh. . (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

Bangladesh‘s top court has ruled that women need no longer declare if they are virgins on marriage certificates after a five-year legal battle by women’s rights groups trying to protect women’s privacy and prevent potential humiliation.

Marriage laws in the Muslim-majority country in South Asia had required a bride to state on her marriage certificate if she was a “kumari” — meaning virgin — a widow or divorced.

But the nation’s High Court on Sunday ordered the government to remove the word “kumari” and replace it with “unmarried,” a move welcomed on Tuesday by women’s rights groups.

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According to the ruling, the groom would now also have to disclose if he was unmarried, divorced or a widower.

No one from the government was available to comment about the change or when it was to take effect.

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Ainun Nahar Siddiqua, one of two lawyers involved in the case, said the case dated back to 2014 with the filing of a writ petition to change the form provided under the 1974 Bangladesh Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act.

“It’s a ruling that gives us the belief that we can fight and create more changes for women in the future,” Siddiqua, of Bangladesh Legal Aid And Services Trust (BLAST), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We filed a writ petition because asking whether someone’s a virgin or not is against the person’s right to privacy.”

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Mohammad Ali Akbar Sarker, a Muslim marriage registrar from Dhaka, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that registrars like him were waiting for the Ministry of Law and Justice to officially inform them about the changes in the form.

“I have conducted many marriages in Dhaka and I have often been asked why men have the liberty to not disclose their status but women don’t. I always told them this wasn’t in my hands. I guess I won’t be asked that question anymore,” said Sarker.