Despite global outcry and efforts by Pakistani lawmakers to curtail the practice, child marriages are still taking place in Pakistan. This Friday, six people were arrested for arranging the marriage of a 7-year-old boy and 6-year-old girl in eastern Pakistan, in Punjab province. All were charged under the Child Marriage Restraint Act. Included in the arrests were the fathers of both children, the cleric who performed the ceremony, and three witnesses.
All face a sentencing of six months imprisonment and/or a fine of 50,000 rupees (the equivalent of $500 U.S. dollars).
According to Yahoo News, Police Chief Mehr Riaz Hussain states that the accused deny that the wedding ever took place, but police have concrete evidence against them — they have a video of the wedding.
Pakistan child marriages continue to be a hotbed issue for the country, as religious leaders and traditionalists believe that the practice is in accordance with Islamic teachings.
— FRANCE 24 (@FRANCE24) February 6, 2016
Lawmakers had attempted to draft stiffer penalties on those who arrange child marriages, but this proposal was withdrawn last month, according to the Inquisitr, after it was rejected by the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), who deemed it “blasphemous” and against the tenets of Islam. This was not the first time that the Council had made such a ruling. It previously handed a similar one down in 2014. CII is a constitutional body which advises parliament as to whether or not bills are compliant with the tenets of Sharia law.
The Council also has a history of not being sympathetic to the plight of female victims. In 2013, they recommended that DNA evidence be made inadmissible in rape cases. Instead, they cited an Islamic law that required that a rape victim must provide four witnesses to support her claim.
The Child Marriage Restraint Act was passed on September 28, 1929, in the British India Legislature. The Act stipulated the minimum age for marriage as 16 for girls, and 18 for boys. If the amendment proposal had passed, the minimum age for girls would have been raised from 16 to 18 and punishment for those who arrange child marriages would carry a sentencing of up to two years in prison.
Opponents of the Child Marriage Restraint Act believe that Pakistan child marriages should be upheld because under Sharia law, there is no specific age limit for marriage. They believe that individuals should be allowed to marry once they reach puberty and that puberty cannot be defined by age, that it is unique to each individual.
Activists working against Pakistan child marriages were outraged that the proposed bill was rejected. Al Jazeera writes that they are now demanding that the Council chief resign from his position, and civil society leaders made an official statement to this end.
“Maulvi Sherani must immediately be removed from his post as CII chairperson and an educated, enlightened, progressive, moderate and real Islamic scholar – who lives in the 21st century, and who does not hate women and girls – must be appointed to replace him.”
— QatarsHub (@QatarsHubEng) February 7, 2016
Qamar Naseem, program coordinator of the Pakistan National Forum on Women Health, added his voice to the outcry.
“We outrightly reject him [Maulvi Sherani] and his statements against women and girls, as well as the early marriage criteria.”
He further implied that many bills are not forwarded to the CII, and, beyond that, the body’s recommendations are not always followed.
“Only when it comes to women and children issues, the government forwards to CII because it knows those amendments will not be approved.”
According to the Washington Post, it is estimated that approximately 20 percent of girls in the country are married before they reach the age of 18.
In the tradition of the Islamic faith, the Prophet Muhammad married a child bride, Aisha, at the age of six. He consummated his marriage with her once she reached the age of nine. At that time, he was 54-years-old. Wikipedia states that she was his third and youngest wife.
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