ISLAMABAD: The Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights on Wednesday unanimously passed a bill to amend the Child Marriage Restraint Act and raise the marriageable age to 18.
The Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill 2018 was introduced by Senator Sherry Rehman last month to address the differences in marriageable age among provinces.
She said the high child mortality rate and stunting in Pakistan are due to early marriages, adding: “Here CNICs are issued at the age of 18 and people cast their votes at the age of 18, so why are they allowed to start married life, which is very important, before 18? There should be uniformity in all the laws.”
Senator Rehman’s bill was supported by Senator Dr Mehr Taj Roghani, who added that maternal and neonatal mortality is higher due to early marriages.
“I moved a similar bill in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but religious segments became a hurdle as they believed that the age of puberty is lower,” she said.
Senator Mohammad Ali Saif said Pakistan has signed international conventions which suggest that the age of adulthood is 18, which have been ratified and implemented by a number of Muslim countries.
“Adulthood includes mental, physical and emotional stages. Here people do not mature even at the age of 45, so I suggest that the cut-off should be 18 years and the bill should be passed,” he said.
In less developed areas, girls are married at the age of five years, said Senator Usman Khan Kakar, and children are even married when they are 40 days old.
Senator Sana Jamali, while expressing the bill, recounted that in her hometown, a 67-year-old man married a 14-year-old girl and died the next day.
Senator Keshoo Bai told committee members she was married early and knew the difficulties of becoming a mother at a young age.
Senator Hidayatullah also expressed the hope that the bill would be implemented in the tribal districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
A statement issued by the Senate said: “It was debated that as per Islamic law, puberty is the only condition for marriage, however, a consensus was reached that as long as such liaisons are not allowed prior to it, Islamic law was not breached.”
Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari said the government was in support of the bill.
Committee chair Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokar said it was unfortunate that such bills were pending because religious circles had become hurdles to them. He announced that the amendment had been passed unanimously.
This is not the first time parliamentarians have sought to amend the Child Marriage Restraint Act and raise the marriageable age to 18. In 2017, Senator Sehar Kamran’s bill was rejected by the Senate Standing Committee for Interior for being ‘un-Islamic’, while then-MNA Marvi Memon withdrew a bill she tabled in this regard in 2016.
Bill to criminalise enforced disappearance
Ms Mazari told the Senate committee that a bill to amend the Pakistan Penal Code and criminalise enforced disappearance has been sent to the Cabinet Committee for the Disposal of Legislative Cases.
The bill was drafted by the Ministry of Human Rights.