ISLAMABAD: The Senate on Monday passed a bill seeking to set minimum age for marriage at 18 amid a noisy protest by the members of religious parties as an apparently confused Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) abstained from voting.

As soon as Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani put the Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill 2018 moved by Sherry Rehman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) after a debate, the members belonging to the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) and Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) first staged a walkout and then returned to the house and held a noisy protest in front of the chairman’s dais.

The JUI-F and JI senators termed it an un-Islamic bill which, according to them, is against Shariah. They were of the view that the bill on such an important issue should have been referred to the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) before being presented before the house for passage.

Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri also opposed the bill, saying two similar bills had been presented by Dr Attiya Inayatullah and Marvi Memon in the National Assembly in the recent past and both of them had withdrawn their bills when the CII termed them un-Islamic.

Religious parties hold noisy protest; ruling PTI abstains from vote

Giving his opinion, Leader of the House in the Senate Shibli Faraz said he was unable to decide whether to support or oppose the bill, adding that in his opinion the issue mostly related to social and cultural values rather than religion. Criticising the functioning of the CII, he said its members were also unclear and unable to take a clear stance on the matter.

Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri of the JUI-F said there was no mention of the age for Nikah (solemnisation of marriage) in Islam which had declared that anyone after attaining the age of puberty became eligible for marriage. He said the age of puberty was different for different people and, therefore, they could not set any age limit for allowing marriages. He said a Nikah after its solemnisation could not be declared invalid and, therefore, it would be unjustified to punish the parents for arranging the marriage.

Senator Mushtaq Ahmed of the JI said that even ulema were against early child marriages, but the definition that “any person below the age of 18 is a child” as given in the bill was against Shariah. Quoting a report, he said 12,000 women and 16,700 children died in a year during deliveries not because of early marriages but because of lack of health facilities and malnutrition.

Speaking in support of the bill, PPP Senator Raza Rabbani said that a similar law had already been passed by the Sindh Assembly and no political party or individual had ever challenged it in any court of law.

Sherry Rehman said the bill had been unanimously passed by the house committee where it was supported by the PTI and the PML-N. She said the bill was not contrary to Islam as a number of Islamic countries had already declared the 18-year-age for marriage. She gave the examples of Turkey, Oman, the UAE, Bangladesh, Morocco and Egypt in this regard.

She said even the Saudi Shura had recently recommended that age of puberty should be 18. Moreover, she added, the Al-Azhar University of Egypt had also issued a decree in this regard. She asked as to why there were juvenile laws and why they did not allow anyone below the age of 18 to cast vote and get national identity card before attaining the age of 18.

Ms Rehman said her bill would also help curb the incidents of child labour.

Former Senate chairman and legal wizard Farooq H. Naek highlighted the legal aspects of the bill, saying there had been no Quranic text available in support of the arguments given by the religious parties. He said Islam allowed them to hold Ijtehad (broad-based consultations) on any matter. He explained that the bill was not declaring the early marriages as invalid, but it suggested punishment only to those who would be responsible for arranging it.

PML-N’s Mushahidullah Khan also supported the bill and said that Islam is a beautiful and a universal religion for all the time and that’s why it has called for Ijtehad on any controversial matter.

The chairman allowed the passage of the bill amid noisy protest by the members of the JUI-F and JI and desk-thumping by the PPP and PML-N senators.

The Senate also passed the Exit from Pakistan (Control) (Amendment) Bill 2018 and the Banking Companies (Amendment) Bill 2018 moved by Mr Rabbani.

The first bill makes it binding upon the federal government to “specify the grounds on which the order (to place someone’s name on the ECL) is proposed to be made and shall communicate such grounds within 24 hours of the making of the order to the person or class of persons prohibited” and if the government fails to do so, its order shall lapse after 14 days.

Mr Rabbani termed the passage of the Banking Companies (Amendment) Bill “historic”, saying that after its passage from parliament, bank employees would be allowed to carry out trade union activities which had been banned by the PML-N government in 1997.

The members also held a debate on the issue of population control. When a majority of the lawmakers expressed concern over the rapid increase in population and called for taking steps to control it, the members of the religious parties opposed the idea, terming it against the Islamic fundamentals.

The Senate also unanimously passed a resolution condemning “the despicable act of terrorism in the two mosques of Christchurch in New Zealand”.

Published in Dawn, April 30th, 2019