Dear Pakistani child bride, we have failed you

Published January 18, 2016
The girl’s choice is irrelevant, we assume. —Reuters
The girl’s choice is irrelevant, we assume. —Reuters

And so, another day dawns with the crow of the rooster and the sigh of the moderate Muslim. Get up, and turn on your computer. You know the drill:

We are a peaceful people. Our values are progressive. We believe in women’s rights. Islam says this. Islam does not say that. Please believe us!

We are not debating at this point. A ‘debate’ implies that someone is listening.

Nobody is listening.

We are all still saying what we believe, with all our hearts, the well-rehearsed phrases since 1947, when we first embarked on a journey to find our national identity.

Also read: Obstetric fistula — Another reason CII is wrong on underage marriage

A bill aimed at enforcing the child marriage laws through strict punishments was shot down in the ruling chambers on “purely religious grounds”. Defeated, Marvi Memon withdrew her proposal.

Harsher punishment? Strict implementation? The Council of Islamic Ideology does not even agree with the current minimum age of marriage, which it deems a violation of Islamic law. It endorses the marriage of girls as young as 9, provided that they have reached puberty.

So, what leg does Marvi Memon’s proposal have to stand on? A secular leg maybe, but nevermind. We know that’s a bad word. It makes the Arabian Sea rise due to the tears of our country’s forefathers, we assume.

The progressives are tempted to shake their fists, as always, at the most clearly visible hurdle to their liberal agenda — a human institution that contradicts their own interpretations of Islam.

But one institution does not make a system.

Few noticed that just last month, a bill related to a similar issue was also defeated by lawmakers in Gilgit-Baltistan. Tabled by the parliamentary secretary of law, the bill called for a complete ban on marriages of those below the age of 18. Haji Rizwan said it contradicted ‘divine laws’. The minister for forests warned against challenging Shariah, stating that the house has no jurisdiction over laws made by God.

So it’s a Pakistani problem then? Not quite.

In Saudi Arabia last year, an attempt to raise the minimum age of marriage to 15 was thwarted after the Grand Mufti ruled that there was nothing wrong with girls below that age getting married.

A number of Islamic states — particularly African states — either legally permit child marriages, or fail to effectively implement the laws banning them.

One would’ve expected us to have sorted this problem out by January 2016. At the very least, we would’ve figured out the need to have a minimum age for marriage, that’s a tad higher than the age of onset of puberty. No.

Consequently, some sources estimate that as many as 21 per cent of Pakistani girls are married off before the age of 18, and many before 16, which is the legally set minimum age of marriage for women.

Also read: Married off for 'honour' — Pakistan's child brides

Is the humour lost on the lawmakers when a girl not old enough to elect a government representative, is deemed old enough to select a spouse to spend the rest of her life with?

It’s a trick question. The girl’s choice is irrelevant. Again, we assume.

Dear child bride of the 21st century, I have no authority to affect the course of your suffering. Would this anguish-soaked, half-rant and half-apology from a Pakistani citizen suffice for now?

As we have done for the last thousand years, we shall now debate what Islam actually says or what it doesn’t say. The Muslims of the Council say one thing, there are Muslims outside who say another.

I, personally, claim no agency in instructing either party on the matter of religion, and leave it entirely to the scholars and the knowledgeable readers.

In the meantime, our women, our children, and our minorities will be patiently and dutifully waiting outside the mosque.

We’ll let them know when we’ve reached a consensus on what to do with them.

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