Rubina Qaimkhani Image Credit: Supplied

Rubina Qaimkhani, in her early 40s, describes herself as a Pakistan Peoples Party activist who was trained and groomed by Benazir Bhutto.

The slain leader trained her as an idea generator and a political worker with a cause and commitment.

Qaimkhani believes in furthering Bhutto’s legacy of bringing change in the society to make Pakistan a real democratic, tolerant and prosperous nation. She wants to rise to the occasion and deliver for the people.

Gulf News: What were the objectives behind bringing the bill to curb child/early marriages?

Rubina Qaimkhani: The purpose of preparing the early age or child marriage bill was to give a fair chance to children to develop their careers without any hindrance from their parents, many of whom are illiterate. We want to discourage early marriage by law because this practice spoils the life and career of children.

In view of the complexity of the issue we have taken civil society organisations and other relevant stake holders onboard to write down the preliminary bill.

How would the law define early age for marriage?

In our rural areas, and in random urban areas, the parents marry off their daughters when they are less than 18 years of age. We have witnessed marriages of 11-year-old girls and at times even nine-year-old girls. So in the planned law, we have fixed 18 years as the minimum marriageable age for girls.

How will this law be implemented?

After the bill becomes law, it would be mandatory for parents to show the national identity card of the girl at the time of nikah, which is generally administered by the Qazi, who besides performing nikah rituals also qualifies to register the marriage officially. If the law is breached parents would be punished with up to two years rigorous imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 rupees.

Would the law able to transform the centuries old cultural tradition of early marriage in this part of the world?

Unfortunately, the girls are considered a burden on parents; it is also believed that they would be of no financial help to their parents as they grow. In a bid to lay off this so called burden, parents even wed off their 12-year-old daughters to a man of 40. The law is not be a remedy for such traditions but it is certainly a first step towards improving the situation. The second phase of this legislation is spreading education as much as we can in rural areas. Only education can bring the required change in our bad cultural practices. Our government has already made it mandatory for parents to send their children to school.

What are the statistics on child marriage?

We don’t have any figures in this regard but at least hundreds of girls are taking shelter in the Dar-ul-Aman, (the homes set up by NGOs) for homeless women. They are the girls who are aware of their rights and are courageous enough to leave their homes in protest and tap their legal options. But a large number silently succumb to the pressure of their parents and not all are aware of their rights.

Was there any opposition from any circles?

My fellow parliamentarians and civil society were fully cooperative and they responded positively to the move. There was some resentment from religious circles but we brought them onboard and incorporated their advice into the bill.

Some religious authorities say that a girl is marriageable when menstruation begins regardless of the age.

The Islamic provision is that once the girl attains puberty as well as wisdom then she should be married off. It is not only puberty but she must be wise and mature enough to understand the different aspects of life. So we have taken all schools of thoughts onboard and thus set 18 years as the benchmark age for the marriage as at this age one is wise enough to take her decisions regarding the life she wants. We have also acquired a fatwa from Islamic Ideological Council in support of our legislation.

When is the bill likely to be passed?

It is likely to be tabled on Monday and it would replace the 1929 Muslim Marriage Act. That would be a great achievement for the rights of women.

Is there any concern in the government about rising rape cases, especially those of minors?

We are very much apprehensive about the recent cases of rapes and preventing such heinous crimes. We intend to amend the law. Under the amended laws, rape of minor girls would be tried in anti-terrorism court so that there is a rapid conviction. With the quick disposal of these cases, we hope to control the crime.

Besides, we are working on the Charter of Child Bill that would ensure the protection of children’s rights from their birth till they reach the age of 18. That would include their education; health and all other aspects of their lives, which will help them become healthy members of this society.