ISLAMABAD: The question of minimum marriageable age for girls reverberated in the National Assembly Standing Committee on Religious Affairs, where an amendment proposing that the minimum limit be raised to 18 years was declared ‘un-Islamic’ by committee members.
PML-N MNA Marvi Memon, who is also the head of the Benazir Income Support Programme, had suggested several changes in the Child Marriage Restraint Bill 2014.
Currently, the minimum legal age of marriage in Pakistan is 16 years, under the Child Marriage Act 1929.
Committee members and officials from the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), however, maintained that introducing an age bracket for girls of marriageable age was a western idea, contrary to the culture, traditions and family values of Muslims.
Conscious of the sensitivity of the subject and obviously wary of offending the sensibilities of religious-minded politicians over the matter, Ms Memon began her presentation very cautiously, repeatedly stressing that she was a practicing Muslim who adhered to the teachings of Islam and held the Holy Quran and Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) in the utmost esteem.
Highlighting the proposed amendments, she said that apart from limiting the minimum age of marriage to 18 years, the new bill called for rigorous imprisonment up to two years and a fine of Rs100,000 for violators.
Under the 1929 act, the punishment for a man over the age of 21 or a woman over the age of 18, who marries a minor girl or a boy is simply one month in prison and/or a fine of Rs1,000.
PML-N’s Hafiz Abdul Kareem, who is the committee chairman, then invited CII officials for their opinion.
“Girls can be eligible for marriage after the age of nine years, if they attain puberty and the same is usually 12 years for boys,” Inamullah, CII’s chief research officer, read out the decision of the council.
“Anything contrary to the life of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) is unacceptable. He married Hazrat Ayesha when she was six years old and her ‘rukhsati’ was held at the age of nine,” he added.
JUI-F’s Maulvi Agha Muhammad and JI’s Sahibzada Yaqub of Jamaat-i-Islami, also opposed the proposed amendment, stopping short of terming it downright blasphemous.
PTI MNA Ali Mohammad delivered a mini-sermon of his own. After reciting several verses, he announced that all political activities and the seats in parliament could be sacrificed to maintain the honour and dignity of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him).
“Marvi [Memon] is not an Islamic scholar, nor am I. But the appropriate body [for such decisions] is the CII and their point of view is correct,” he said, adding “There is no point discussing this bill now”.
While most committee members agreed with his view point, Ms Memon tried to push her point home.
If this suggestion is so anti-Islam, what will become of the Sindh Assembly, which recently passed a law setting 18 years as the minimum age for marriage, she posited. However, even her party colleagues in the committee did not back her and instead, criticised her severely.
Ruling party lawmaker Malik Abdul Ghafoor Dogar insisted that the CII was correct, adding, “As for the Sindh Assembly; they have to enter their graves and we are [each] responsible for our own [grave].”
The only support for Ms Memon came from MQM’s Kishwer Zehra, who openly supported her efforts, saying, “I strongly believe that girls below the age of 18 should not be married.”
“Tell me, why do we get CNICs, driving licenses, voting rights etc all after the age of 18 years? How can a girl be married off when she is just a child?”
However, the committee chairman announced at the end of the meeting that there was no further need to discuss the issue.
Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2016