JUST a day after the Senate approved a bill by the PPP’s Sherry Rehman to increase the minimum age of marriage to 18, a similar bill that was pushed by the PTI’s Ramesh Kumar Vankwani was heavily debated in the National Assembly.
Both bills agree on increasing the age of marriage to 18, but they differ on what punishment should be meted out for violations.
Interestingly, while the women parliamentarians of the PTI and PML-N seemed to be in favour of passing the bill, citing the example of other Muslim countries, their male compatriots remained divided on the issue. They could be heard either vocally opposing the bill or seen passively refraining from the vote.
Similarly, loud opposition could also be heard when the bill was passed in the Senate — expectedly from the religious parties, but also from some members of the government.
The reaction from some elected parliamentarians and senators is not surprising as we have witnessed similar responses each time such a move has been included in the national debate before. But it is still disheartening to note how many continue to endorse the marriage of children under the guise of religion.
Although Pakistan is a signatory to international rights treaties that recognise anyone under the age of 18 as a child, deep-rooted cultural beliefs are not easily eroded with a single flick of the pen.
So far, Sindh is the only province to have successfully increased the age of marriage to 18 — and that too after much opposition.
During the recent resistance, Senator Rehman correctly pointed out the inconsistencies in Pakistani laws when it comes to recognising who is a child. For instance, one cannot vote in elections before the age of 18; in fact, one cannot even be issued a CNIC. So how can these youngsters be considered mentally mature to be married off?
Early marriages deprive children of the right to complete their education, and they are forced to take on the burden of adult roles and responsibilities.
Young mothers face health-related complications during pregnancy and childbirth as their bodies are not yet fully developed. Having little to no agency, child brides are especially vulnerable to rape and domestic abuse.
Let it be said in unequivocal terms that child marriage is a harmful cultural practice that deprives the child — and particularly the girl child — of the opportunities that every individual deserves in life.
Published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2019