Senate body in Pakistan rejects amendment to child marriage act as ‘un-Islamic’

Dawn News

ISLAMABAD: The Senate Standing Committee on Interior on Wednesday rejected ‘The Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill, 2017’ and said it was un-Islamic.

The bill was rejected even though the mover of the bill was not present though three other bills were deferred for the same reason.

The chairman of the committee, Rehman Malik said the bill, which suggests increasing the minimum age for girls to marry from 16 to 18, was contrary to Islamic injunctions.

“I have also discussed it with religious scholars and they also believe that girls can be married before the age of 18 according to Islam, so these kinds of bills cannot be passed,” he announced.

Senator Mashhadi votes to reject the bill, even though he believes early marriages rob children of ‘innocence, youth’

Despite not being bound by procedure, parliamentarians normally ask the opinion of the Council of Islamic Ideology regarding certain bills. However, the council has been without a head for almost a year and cannot give an opinion. Parliamentarians have therefore been resorting to asking the opinion of Islamic scholars in their individual capacity.

The mover of the bill, Senator Sehar Kamran, was not present and it was decided to hold a voting on the bill without the mover and it was rejected.

Talking to Dawn, Senator Kamran said she had asked Mr Malik to defer the bill as she would not be able to attend the meeting and that she wanted to convince members about the draft law.

She said Pakistani citizens are not issued CNICs and driving licences before the age of 18 and that they are also not allowed to vote. Then how can they be allowed to marry before that, she asked.

“Girls as young as 10 are being married off in Pakistan even though the legal minimum age for getting married is 16 and this is because they do not get their CNICs made. That is why I suggested the minimum age for getting married be raised to 18. If the government thinks 16-year-old girls are adults, they should also be issued driving licenses and allowed to cast votes,” Ms Kamran said.

The Senator said that because of the vague law, pre-teen girls are being married off to men four times their age and that due to this, they are deprived of an education, get physically weak and develop complications from early pregnancies, some even resulting in death.

“This bill was important for addressing these issues,” she said.

The draft bill, available with Dawn, says the leading cause of death for girls between the ages of 15 and 18 is pregnancy. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child also suggests the minimum age for marriage should be 18.

The practice of marrying off young girls is common in Pakistan, particularly in low-income families but action cannot be taken against offenders and that the minimum age should therefore be increased to 18.

One of the committee members, Tahir Hussein Mashhadi told Dawn though he had voted to reject the bill, he believed that children are robbed of their innocence and youth due to early marriages and that there is a need to look into the matter.

“The chairman was of the view that girls of less than 18 years of age could be married off according to Islam and that the bill was therefore against Islam,” he said.

“However, it is a fact that children need to be protected and society should also look at moralities. We snatch innocence and youth from children with early marriages. In the past, girls were strong, healthy and more responsible, but the girls of today are not mature and healthy enough to take on the responsibilities of marriage. All these things need to be considered when doing legislation,” he said.

The committee deferred discussion on three other bills due to the absence of the movers. These include ‘The Prevention of Witchcraft Bill, 2017’ and ‘The Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2017’ moved by Senator Chaudhry Tanvir Khan and ‘The Criminal Laws (Amendment) Protection of Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, 2017’ moved by Senator Rubina Khalid.