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Political leaders call for end to child marriages

Updated May 05, 2019

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Ruling PTI and opposition PML-N urged to join hands on the issue. ─ DawnNewsTV/File
Ruling PTI and opposition PML-N urged to join hands on the issue. ─ DawnNewsTV/File

KARACHI: Days after a bill against child marriage divided political parties in the National Assembly, leaders of various parties took to various social media platforms on Saturday, calling for an end to the practice in the country.

Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari posted a picture of a minor bride with a 40-year-old on his Instagram page and wrote: “We in Sindh managed to save the 10-year-old girl above from marrying this man because we have banned child marriage. It’s time for the rest of Pakistan to do the same.”

Mr Bhutto-Zardari was referring to a recent attempt in the province to marry off a minor to a 40-year-old man. The police of the province, where the PPP is in power, arrested the groom and are in search of the girl’s father.

Ruling PTI and opposition PML-N urged to join hands on the issue

On Monday, the Senate had passed the Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill, 2018, which proposes that the legal minimum age of marriage in the country should be set at 18.

A similar legislation was introduced in the National Assembly on Tuesday, but only after an intense discussion which exposed cracks within various parties on the issue.

Even though the bill was tabled by Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani of the ruling PTI, several of party legislators strongly opposed it. Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan while opposing the bill termed it un-Islamic.

The opposition PPP was the only party whose members voted in support of the bill in unison as the members of the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) also gave a divided vote.

The bill had been unanimously endorsed by the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights and was passed by the upper house of parliament after PPP’s Sherry Rehman tabled it amid a noisy protest by the members of religious parties.

The PTI had abstained from voting.

“The PTI says it’s un-Islamic to ban child marriage,” Mr Bhutto-Zardari wrote on his Instagram page, which was followed by a tweet on the topic.

“UAE marriage age is 18, Indonesia is 18 & Turkey is also 18. Are they not Muslim countries?” he tweeted. “Every 20 minutes a girl dies in Pakistan as a result of underage pregnancy. #EndChildMarriage,” he added.

The campaign against child marriages then gained momentum on Twitter as various political leaders came out in support of the bill.

“As a parent, woman & Parliamentarian it is my foremost duty & obligt support the bill for increase in age of marriage to 18 years. As a humane & dem society, we cannot condone any attempts to vilify the rights of children. I would request all mbrs to support #EndChildMarriage,” wrote PTI’s Maleeha Bokhari.

“We at @wdf_pk support legislation on ending child marriage. 21% of girls in PK are married before age 18. PTI & PMLN, please don’t walk away and don’t use religion as political weapon. Its a question of future of millions of girls.History will not absolve you! #EndChildMarriage,” tweeted Awami Worker Party’s Ismat Shahjahan.

Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry also tweeted in favour of the bill: “Regardless of what party, religion or sect we belong to, for the sake of humanity it is our responsibility to raise our voice against merciless custom. #NoTo­ChildMarriages”

Published in Dawn, May 5th, 2019