DHAKA, Bangladesh - Authorities in southern Bangladesh are investigating whether a 13-year-old girl was forced to marry a 75-year-old man as a way to pay off her father's debt, local media reported Sunday.
Lokman Shikder loaned the girl's father, Azhar Bepari, 4,000 takas ($59) several months ago, but Bepari had trouble repaying it, the United News of Bangladesh reported. Shikder recently gave Bepari the choice of immediately paying back the money plus interest or allowing him to marry his daughter in exchange for waiving the loan, it said.
Shikder, who was already married, is the father of four grown children and has a host of grandchildren, the news agency said.
Badrul Huq, a government official, said authorities were investigating and legal action would be taken against the father and husband if the marriage indeed took place, the report said. People under the age of 18 are not legally allowed to marry in Bangladesh.
Shikder's first wife also wants her husband punished because he married the girl without her permission, the report said. Men can marry up to four women in Bangladesh, but their wives must agree in writing to any new marriages.
Human rights groups say child marriage is rampant in rural Bangladesh, an impoverished nation of 150 million people where almost half of the population lives on less than $1 a day. They say the punishment for violations of child marriage laws is too mild - one month in jail or a fine of 1,000 takas ($15), or both.
Rashida Akhter Shirin, a women's rights lawyer, said she would help the girl and her family if they want to file a court case against Shikder, the report said.
Officials could not be reached for comment Sunday.