Child bride
Every 20 minutes, a woman dies in Pakistan of maternity-related complications and that out of every 100 females 40 percent are married below the age of 18. Photo for illustrative purpose only Image Credit: Social media

Highlights

  • The new bill seeks to set minimum age for marriage at 18
  • A fine of Rs200,000 and three years of punishment proposed
  • Out of 100 females 40 percent are married below the age of 18
  • 21% of girls in Pakistan are married before age of 18

Dubai: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government got another blow after his own ministers rejected the bill seeking to prohibit the under-age-marriage of girls below the age of 18.

It was even more embarrassing for the government as the child marriage bill was passed by the Senate (Upper House) of Pakistan just a day earlier on Monday despite resistance from the religious parties’ senators who termed it against Islam.

The law seeking to set minimum age for marriage at 18 has been named ‘The Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill 2018’. It was presented in the Senate by Pakistan Peoples party (PPP) Senator Sherry Rehman on Monday and it was passed after a heated debate.

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However, the bill needed a node from the National Assembly of Pakistan and it was tabled in the House by no other than Dr Ramesh Kumar, parliamentarian from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Inaf (PTI) but was opposed by his own party members and at least three ministers clearly showing cracks within the ruling PTI.

21%

of girls in Pakistan are married before age of 18 and 3 per cent are married before the age of 15: UNICEF

Fawad Chaudhry, Federal Minister of Science and Technology, showed disappointment on the issue in his tweet.

“What hopes can one really attribute to a society whose fifty elected representative and even ministers actually voted for under age marriage? Should be enough to give sleepless nights to the world and intelligentsia of our own – rally a scary moment,” Fawad tweeted.

Prominent journalist and television anchor Hamid Mir also took the opportunity to expose split amongst the ruling party.

“Bill on under age marriage was tabled by the PTI but three of its own minister opposed it while the rest supported it. How a government whose own ministers are not on one page can govern?” he said in his Urdu tweet.

After the ruckus in the House by some members who opposed the bill, the National Assembly on Tuesday referred the bill to amend the child marriage restraint act 1929 to the Standing Committee on Law and Justice for further proceeding.

The bill is against Islam

Federal Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan said no legislation could be made against Islam. He said the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) had opposed the bill in the past.

Khan said he would prefer to resign but would not support any bill against Sharia.

Federal Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Dr. Noor-ul-Haq Qadri also opposed the bill.

According to Pakistan media, Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari supported the bill saying that Turkey and Bangladesh had also set 18 years of age for marriage. “Parliament is supreme, it can take decision,” she said. Also, she said the Al-Azhar University of Egypt had also issued a decree in this regard.

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Majority of the MNAs supported to refer the bill to the Standing Committee on Law and Justice.

Some of the MNAs of Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League-N also supported the bill.

The bill to be reviewed again

Now the NA Committee will review the bill and consult Council of Islamic Ideology on it for resubmitting to the NA for its approval. The bill seeks to amend the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 which sets the legal age of marriage for boys to 18 and 16 for girls.

According to the amendment, marriage under 18 years can lead to a fine of Rs200,000 and three years of strict punishment for facilitators.

Senator Sherry Rehman had earlier pointed out that after every 20 minutes, a woman dies in Pakistan of maternity-related complications and that out of every 100 females 40 percent are married below the age of 18.

The UN estimates one in five Pakistani women married before they were 18 and 3 per cent before they were 15.

What is child marriage rate in Pakistan

According to UNICEF, 21 per cent of girls in Pakistan are married before age of 18 and 3 per cent are married before the age of 15.

Pakistan has the sixth highest number of absolute child brides in the world – 1,909,000.

A 2017 study estimates that ending child marriage in Pakistan could lead to a $6.2billion rise in earnings and productivity.

Why it is important for Pakistan

Pakistan has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1996, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.

Pakistan is a member of the South Asian Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC), which adopted a regional action plan to end child marriage from 2015-2018.

Representatives of the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), including Pakistan, asserted the Kathmandu Call to Action to End Child Marriage in Asia in 2014. As part of its commitment, Pakistan will ensure access to legal remedies for child brides and establish a uniform minimum legal age of marriage of 18.