KARACHI: The Sindh Assembly has become the country’s first elected assembly to have passed a bill on child marriages that places a ban on marriage of children under 18 years and makes its violation punishable with rigorous imprisonment up to three years.
The Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Bill, 2013, whose draft was prepared by a special assembly committee after reviewing private and the government bills on the subject moved by PPP lawmakers Sharmila Farooqi and Dr Sikander Mandhro, respectively, was tabled by Women Developemnt Minister Rubina Qaimkhani and adopted unanimously when put to a vote in the house on Monday.
Under the bill, any groom who solemnises marriage with a girl under 18 years of age, and parents of such a groom or those facilitating contracting of such a marriage will be given maximum three years rigorous punishment but not less than two years.
This bill declares the offence cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable and anyone can file a complaint against such a marriage in a court of a judicial magistrate and the court will ensure the case is decided within 90 days.
Speaking on the occasion, Minister Qaimkhani highlighted the necessity of the law pointing out that child marriages were being contracted in violation of rights of children and international obligations.
Terming it a historic day for the Sindh Assembly, she thanked all the members of the committee, Mehtab Akbar Rashdi and Naila Munir, Senior Minister Nisar Ahmad Khuhro, Dr Sikander Mandhro, law department, religious scholars and civil society in particular for their input in finalising the recommendations of the committee.
Recalling that a bill on the subject was also presented in parliament but it could not get through, Ms Qaimkhani said the credit went to the Sindh Assembly which was a forerunner as far as legislation for women and children was concerned.
Ms Farooqi, who had moved the private bill, said the Sindh Assembly took the initiative to change the law after 85 years by repealing the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929. She said an attempt had also been made during the last tenure of the assembly but could not make it.
Erum Azim said that the responsibility of the lawmakers did not end here but they had to ensure that the law was implemented.
Mir Nadir Magsi said the child marriages issue could not be resolved by simply passing the bill and highlighted the need to create awareness about the legislation through wide media publicity. He pointed out that over 80 per cent marriages of underage children in Sindh and Balochistan had never been reported and there were many areas where girls between the age of 12 and 15 were married.
Information Minister Sharjeel Memon assured the house that the law would be publicised through an advertising campaign by the government.
MQM Parliamentary Party leader Syed Sardar Ahmad said the assembly had done a great job to rescue our children from the ‘oppression of under-age marriages’.
PTI Parliamentary Party leader Samar Ali Khan said he felt proud to be a member of the Sindh Assembly that adopted such an important legislation.
PML-N Parliamentary Party leader Irfanullah Khan Marwat said the Sindh Assembly had made an important legislation and the law must be implemented in its letter and spirit.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Dr Sikander Mandhro informed the house that lawyers, representatives of civil society and judges were consulted while the law was being drafted.
Lawmakers Dr Seema Zia, Sorath Thebo, Raana, Ansar, Nusrat Sehar Abbasi, Khawja Izharul Hasan also spoke on the occasion.
Deputy Speaker Syeda Shehla Raza, who was presiding over the session, termed it an important legislation and called April 28 a historic day for the assembly.
Earlier, all legislators belonging to the three opposition parties — PML-F, PML-N and PTI — staged a walkout in protest against the ruling by Syed Murad Ali Shah, member of the panel of chairmen, who was presiding the house when the adjournment motion of Nusrat Sehar Abbasi was taken up. By the motion its mover wanted to discuss the copying culture in exams, which was opposed by Senior Education Minister Nisar Ahmad Khuhro. After listening to the arguments on its admissibility and Mr Khuhro’s point of view, the chair termed the motion not maintainable citing that it was not a matter of recent occurrence. The opposition parties then staged their first walkout but after some time Mr Khuhro brought them back to the house.
PPP lawmaker Ali Nawaz Shah through a point of order drew attention of the chair towards misreporting that the lawmaker had not submitted development schemes for implementation in his constituency. He waved the letters he had received from the departments concerned about the approval of his submitted schemes regarding power supply, building of roads and others.
The house, which was called to order at 10.15am by deputy speaker Syeda Shehla Raza in the chair, called it a day at 1.50pm to reassemble on Tuesday at 10am.
Earlier, the minister for parliamentary affairs through a motion suggested to the house to start post budget discussion from Tuesday by suspending rest of the business except the questions hour so that receipts of the province 2013-14, current revenue expenditure 2013-14, current capital expenditure 2013-14 and development expenditure 2013 and 14 could be discussed thoroughly during the next four days business, as Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah would wind up the discussion on Monday next.
After the moto was endorsed by the parliamentary party leaders in the house, it was also agreed that there would be no private members’ day on Tuesday and it would be compensated next week.