Pakistan Child Marriage: Bid To Raise Age To 18 Struck Down, Called ‘Un-Islamic,’ ‘Blasphemous’

The introduction of a bill to amend existing child marriage legislation in Pakistan was stuck down by the Pakistani National Assembly this week, according to reports from the Daily Mail.

The changes proposed in the lower house by Marvi Memon, a member of the governing Pakistan Muslim League, were seeking to raise the legal age of marriage in the country from 16 to 18 and to amend the wording of the prescribed punishment for violation of the law to read “rigorous” or “two-year,” from the current wording, which is said to read “simple.”

The proposed amendments to Pakistan’s Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929, were said to have been described as “un-Islamic” and “blasphemous,” by the Council of Islamic Ideology. The council is reported to have been created for parliament to consult on the compatibility of legislation with Islam in 1962.

Council Chairman Mohammad Khan Sheerani stated that Pakistani parliament cannot enact laws that are “against the teachings” of Islam, according to the Independent.

In Shariah Islam, child marriage is said to be addressed by stipulating that girls may marry once they have reached the age of puberty, which is different for everyone, and therefore not determinable by age, according to the Arab News. In May, 2014, the Council of Islamic Ideology was said to have endorsed marriage for girls as young as 9-years-old if they showed signs of having reached puberty.

According Marvi Memon, the proposed change of raising the age of child marriage laws in Pakistan does not “violate the teachings of Islam” in any way. The current law states that women may marry at 16, but that men must be 18-years-of-age before they may wed.

Girls Not Brides estimates that 21 percent of girls in Pakistan marry before they reach 18. In neighboring India, 47 percent of girls marry before they are 18, with rates over 60 percent in some areas. In Bangladesh, 65 percent of women are reported to be married by the age of 18 — as well as 29 percent of 15-year-olds — giving the country one of the “highest” child marriage rates globally. Child marriage rates in Bangladesh have reportedly begun to decrease for girls between the ages of 15 and 19.

Girls Not Brides describes child marriage in Pakistan as being perpetuated by “tradition, culture, and customary practices.” On occasion, families are said to “exchange daughters.” The marriage of children may sometimes be connected to financial incentives including cash payments and forgiveness of past debts. Families of child brides are reported to often hold beliefs that marrying at a young age will help protect girls from sexual assault, harassment, and other potential harms.

In Sindh, a province located in southeast Pakistan, the legislative assembly passed the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act in 2014 that raised that legal age of marriage to 18, and stipulated that marrying children younger than that was a punishable offense.

In the Pakistani Punjab region, which it tenuously shares with India, a law was passed introducing new, tougher penalties for those who marry children. However, the legal age of marriage in Punjab was said to have remained unchanged at 16.

“Social and gender inequality, a desire to control women’s sexuality and protect family honor, economic hardship and lack of awareness of the harmful impact of child marriage are common driving factors.”

Eighty-five year old Ibn Abdur Rehman, a Pakistani human rights advocate, was said to have panned the decision to kill the proposed amendments to the child marriage law, describing the move as “absurd.” Rehman stated a belief that the Islamic council could be setting the stage for its own downfall and that the decision was a step backwards in the fight to protect human rights in Pakistan.

[Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images]