Senate dismisses bill to increase minimum age for marriage
It’s difficult to perceive a Pakistan where the fundamental rights of every individual are respected when one step forward towards a progressive state is pushed several steps backwards as our lawmakers fail to act.
The UN’s International Day of the Girl was celebrated in an odd manner in Pakistan.
The Senate standing committee rejected the Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill, 2017- the bill called for increasing the legal minimum age for marriage for girls from 16 to 18.
The bill was rejected for being ‘un-Islamic’ and chairman of the committee, Rehman Malik in a press briefing said that since Islam allows marriage under the age of 18, hence the bill cannot be passed.
The medieval practice of child marriage is a problem around the world in most countries with a regressive system, but this is a huge step backwards even for a troubled country like Pakistan.
“The bill was forwarded for a vote count to find out the opinion of the majority present at the moment,” said Senator Rehman Malik, while talking to DNA.
“The bill has no connection to child abuse it was simply an amendment to increase the legal age from 16 to 18 for child marriage and without a response from the Islamic clergy a decision could not be made,” said Malik.
By not putting an end to the abusive practice of child marriage, the lawmakers proved that they are incapable of making sound decisions that protect fundamental rights of all citizens.
Young girls are coerced into marriages depriving them of their rights to equality and freedom.
Moreover, early marriages restrict child brides from receiving education, and most often they are unable to stand up against domestic violence.
“Islamic perspective on marriage is that a girl is ready for marriage as soon as she hits puberty or becomes ‘baligh’- to be physically able to bear children,” said Dr Samia Raheel Qazi, the only female member of the Council of Islamic Ideology.
“The debate about increasing the minimum age for marriage is a western propaganda as the western society feels threatened by the growing Muslim population,” said Raheel.
While competing with India, Pakistan usually fails to keep up with whatever progress our neighbours make and remains ignorant to the necessity of protecting the rights of women and children.
India’s Supreme Court ruled that ‘sexual intercourse with a girl below 18 years of age is rape regardless of whether she is married or not.”
Although, the ruling does not prevent the practice of child marriage, yet it is considered a remarkable step towards progress in ensuring the safety of underage child brides.
“This should not be our policy and this random act of dismissing the amendment in child marriage bill is beyond comprehension,” said Pakistan People’s Party leader Nafisa Shah.
“Islam is a progressive religion and there is nothing more progressive than increasing the minimum legal age for marriage to protect children and women,” she added.
If children under the age of 18 are not considered mature enough to have their CNICs, licenses, the right to vote, then how can they be considered old enough to grasp the complicated implications of marriage as an institution?
Young girls are unable to understand the concept of sexual consent hence they become victims of marital rape, domestic violence, and unwanted pregnancies that further lead to health issue all due to lack of awareness and the inability to comprehend such matters at a young age.
“We believe that only responsible adults should marry but we will not support the western agenda targeting Muslim population,” said Samia Raheel.
“Under-age marriage is allowed in Islam due to several reasons,” she added. “Most often these incidents take place where a young girl without any guardian is placed under the protection of a male through marriage.”
Women have always been the victim of barbaric practices under the patriarchic system and those practices have been defended under the blanket of traditional values and customary norms.
In Pakistan, underage marriage is often used as a tool for pressing dominance and a struggle for power.
Young girls are married off against their will to settle financial disputes often under the authority of the much-debated ‘jirga’ system.
In some cases, powerful feudal lords reduce the burden of dowry payments on the parents, in return for younger wives.
“We do not want to take any measures that may lead to child abuse,” said PPP’s Rehman Malik.
“The decision to set a minimum age will only be taken during a public hearing after consulting the Islamic scholars so that a law can be formed that follows the teachings of Islam,” said Malik.
However, it is incomprehensible why there is even a debate on the issue considering the several incidents that have taken place over the years that put the safety of young girls at risk under this practice.
“We must not let any political party impose fatwas and exploit religion for any political gain,” said PPP’s Nafisa Shah.
Pakistan needs to sort its priorities and reach a verdict on whether the state wants to remain ignorant and inhuman regarding the rights of its citizens or is it going to keep up with the world and move towards progress.