Kazi is not a word in law in Bangladesh. Legally speaking they are the "Nikah Registrar", appointed by the government under the Muslim Marriages and Divorces (Registration) Act, 1974, and rules framed there under, the Muslim Marriages and Divorces (Rules), 1975. Each Kazi is appointed to a defined locality where their job is registration of Muslim marriages and divorces within the given area. According to a recent High Court decision, Nikah Registrars are "public" servants (Kazi Obaidul Haque vs. State 55 DLR (1999) 25). Although they have a religious basis, marriages in Bangladesh are essentially contracts and are regulated by legislation, especially registration of marriages and divorces, that are not a necessary ingredient of Islamic law. So as public servants, the Kazis merely register marriages and divorces.
Marriage registrars charge fees at will for 'nikah' registrations which people familiar with the issue termed 'much higher' than the government-fixed rates. They also said Kazis usually charge 300-400 per cent higher than the government rates. In such case, nikah registrars usually cash in on ignorance about the government fees and other pertaining rules and regulations. These 'exorbitant' charges put extra burden on bridegrooms especially those who come from low income families. People familiar with the matter told the FE that on an average, Tk 5,000 is being charged for each registration with "mahr" equivalent to Tk 1.0 million.
But actual government fee is merely Tk 1,600 i.e. Nikah registrars charge more than 312 per cent higher than government thresholds.
They said extra fees charged by Kazis amount to around Tk 2.4 billion a year (this is just guesstimation by them of extra Tk 3,600 each marriage by a total number of marriage registrations conducted in 2016). Currently, there are a total of 6,375 Nikah registrars in the country and they registered some 691,666 marriages in 2016.
The government revised marriage rules with updated fee-structure in Muslim Marriages and Divorces (Registration) Rules, 2009. It said Nikah registrars, popularly known as Kazi can charge Tk 1,000 on the first Tk 400,000 "mahr" and Tk 100 for consecutive Tk 100,000. This means that for a "mahr" equivalent to Tk 1.0 million, a common standard for the middle-class family, registration fee should be Tk 1,600.
"Mahr" or "den-mahr" or "kabin" is a mandatory payment, in the form of money or possessions paid or promised to be paid by grooms at the time of marriage that becomes her legal property. Nikah registrars, however usually don't need to deposit any portion of their incomes with the national exchequer excepting a lump sum of renewal fee per annum. According to the latest rules, a registrar needs to spend Tk 10,000 to get licence to be eligible as "Kazi." Later, they need to pay Tk 5,000 as renewal fee each year in city areas. It does not correlate with the number of marriage they register. If they register 500 marriages a year, they will submit consolidated fund of Tk 500 and if they conduct a single marriage, renewal fee remains the same. But on an average, each registrar conducts over 100 registrations each year (by simple arithmetic).
Chittagong saw the highest number of marriage registrations among 64 districts. On the other hand, renewal fee in "sadar" areas of districts are much low at least one-fifth to Tk 1,000 in city areas. And it is exactly half of Tk 500 at Paurashava outside Zila Sadar. And at union level, a registrar needs to renew its business entity by giving only Tk 100. A newlywed Hisibur Rahman at city's Green Road said he paid Tk 6,000 for registration of a "Kabin" Tk 1.0 million, up by 375 per cent than the government rate. "Actually, I don't know about official fees. So, I didn't bargain with Kazi," he said.
Rowshan Ara, a schoolteacher at a city school, told the FE that registrar wanted Tk 20,000 for Kabin of Tk 2.5 million. "The fees were settled at Tk 12,000 after bargaining," she claimed saying that she is still ignorant about government fees. The registrar told her, "A significant amount of the fees goes to the government coffer." Like them, a large number of people don't know about actual fee rate fixed by the government for nikah registration.
When contacted, city's registrars and their representatives told this correspondent that they fully comply with the government fees and other structures. Kholilur Rahman Sarker, a Kazi in Kamalapur area in the capital, refuted the allegations of charging higher rates saying that he maintains official rates strictly. Many times people go to Kazi offices to get married. "Only in such situation, we take additional charges from the clients on grounds of hiring witnesses," he added.
Besides, the fees become higher in some cases when both bride and bridegroom flee their home and go to Kazi office for getting married. Khalilur Rahman, president of Bangladesh Muslim Nikah Registrar Association, the apex body of over 6,000 Kazis across the country, said they will take actions if anyone found guilty of charging higher fees. "If we get such complaints, we will take action against the registrars," he added. He, however, said many affluent bridegrooms and their guardians offer more than the official rate in the form of "gift". "My association doesn't believe that taking such token money is a violation of rules," Mr Rahman opined.
Towhida Khandaker, director of Bangladesh National Women Lawyers' Association (BNWLA), told the FE: "We know about such practices, but none is vocal about it." The government's department concerned and the apex body of the Kazi need to address this issue through proper awareness campaign, she said, adding that it is also necessary to bring the violators to justice. Officials of Access to Information (a2i) Programme, a digital move by the Prime Minister's Office to help ensure information rights, told the FE that this kind of unethical practices can be prevented by introducing a new app which can ensure accurate payment of government registration fee.
The government last year launched 'age verification and marriage registration through mobile apps' through a2i programme to prevent child marriage. Officials concerned dealing with the issue viewed that Nikah registrars are charging much money for registration simply due to lack of public awareness. An official at Law and Justice Division under the Ministry of Law said for lack of awareness, people are giving extra money to register their marriage. They are yet to take any legal actions against such unethical practices but vowed to take actions if someone lodges complaint.
Under the Muslim Marriages and Divorces (registration) Act 1974, notwithstanding anything contained in any law, custom or usage, every marriage solemnised under Muslim law shall be registered in accordance with the provisions of this Act. The act also states that for the purpose of registration of marriages under this Act, the government shall grant licences to such number of persons, to be called Nikah Registrars. And not more than one Nikah Registrar shall be licensed for anyone area. Before the act, Muslim Family Laws Ordinance, 1961 was in force.