Petitioners filed a writ petition for a judgment against the parents of one of the petitioners (“Petitioner A”), the State, and certain other unnamed parties (collectively, “Respondents”), declaring that the Respondents were unlawfully detaining Petitioner A against her will. Petitioner A, a Bangladeshi woman, had moved to the United Kingdom after completing medical school. While visiting her family in Bangladesh, she was allegedly detained by her family, forcibly injected with mood stabilizers and anti-psychotic medication, and forced to marry a suitor selected by the Respondents. Respondents had previously defied repeated Court orders to release Petitioner A so she could appear in Court and therefore Respondents were held in contempt of Court.
The Court held that Article 31 (prohibiting actions detrimental to the life, liberty, or property of any person except in accordance with law) and Article 32 (providing that no person shall be deprived of life or personal liberty except in accordance with the law) of the Constitution of Bangladesh (the “Constitution”) compelled Respondents to release Petitioner A. The Court noted that although forced marriage is prohibited in Bangladesh, strong traditions of family hierarchy often blur the line between arranged and forced marriages. The Court highlighted the difference between parents bestowing advice and enslaving their children. Furthermore, the Court examined case law to determine that Islamic law also requires bridal consent for a valid marriage. The Court also noted with concern the doctor’s actions in listening to Petitioner A’s parents over Petitioner A, and forcibly injecting her with medications that she did not medically need. The Court firmly stated that doctors cannot prescribe and administer medication at the direction of others (in this case, Petitioner A’s parents).
While the Court observed that international treaties entered into by the State are not binding on the Court unless also adopted into municipal law, it noted that precedent indicated that Bangladeshi law and Constitutional principles should generally be interpreted to be consistent with such treaties. Accordingly, the Court noted that the rights provided under Articles 31 and 32 of the Constitution should be interpreted in accordance with the State’s commitments under treaties to which Bangladesh was a Party. This included Article 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (requiring the state to take measures to eliminate discrimination and ensure women equal rights to marriage and free choice of one’s spouse); Article 1 of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (requiring prohibition of violence, coercion, and the deprivation of liberty of women); Article 1 of the Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriage (requiring mutual consent to marriage); and Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (declaring the equal rights of men and women to marry and found a family). Interpreted in light of these treaties, the Court found that Articles 31 and 32 of the Constitution entitled Petitioner A to her liberty, and therefore the Respondents were unlawfully detaining her. The Court did not address the whether the marriage was valid, as this was not the subject of the petition, but recommended pursuing the appropriate forum for a decision on the matter.