Ministers backtrack on support to curb early marriages

Published: January 18, 2013

The bill aimed to increase the legal age of marriage for a girl from 16 to 18 and increase punishment in the Child Marriage Restraint Act. DESIGN: MUHAMMAD SUHAIB

PESHAWAR: 

Provincial ministers, who had earlier lent their support for curtailing child marriages, backtracked on their views when the Child Marriage Restraint Amendment Bill 2013 was presented in the assembly last week.

The bill, which calls to curtail child marriages in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), was moved by MPA Munawar Sultana from the Awami National Party (ANP) on private members day on January 11. However, it was rejected by most lawmakers.

The bill aimed to increase the legal age of marriage for a girl from 16 to 18 and increase punishment in the Child Marriage Restraint Act.

Talking to The Express Tribune, Sultana said she strongly defended her bill but had no support to take it forward. “Early marriages steal the innocence of girls and force them to live a life of poverty and ignorance,” she said, adding “My own party has opposed the bill and it is difficult for me to discuss it further.”

The bill was opposed by ANP Parliamentary Leader Mian Iftikhar Hussain. “The approval of this bill will create a new debate and more issues in the province. There is no need to discuss this bill in the assembly,” he said. He added that in other Islamic countries there is no age limit for marriages. Nighat Orakzai backed Mian Iftikhar on the issue.

However, back in 2010, Mian Iftikhar himself had said the government will impose restrictions on child marriages and forbid persons under the age of 18 from tying the knot.

Minister Sitara Ayaz also opposed the bill and said it had too many “financial implications” for the province, while Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl MPA Mufti Kifayatullah had rejected the notion by calling it “a western agenda” pursued by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who “bring them forward for their own gains.”

Interestingly however, the government had passed the K-P Child Protection and Welfare Act in 2010, which includes protection of children against early marriages.

Programme coordinator for NGO Blue Veins and co-chairman of End Violence Against Women and Girls (EVAW/G) Alliance (K-P and Fata), Qamar Naseem said that poor lobbying, lack of support from civil society organisations and religious leaders were the major factors behind the assembly’s failure to pass the bill.

Naseem, who is a strong advocate of CMRA amendment in K-P, expressed his disappointment over the lawmakers’ criticisms.

He said according to Girls Not Brides a Global Alliance to End Child Marriages, the prevalence rate of child marriages in Pakistan is 24%. He said that child marriage is more common in rural areas (29%) where longstanding traditions are more closely followed than in urbanised areas, where the rate is 16%.

Pakistan is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Children, which refers to early marriage as the marriage of people less than 18 years of age.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 18th, 2013.

Reader Comments (5)

  • Raj - USA
    Jan 18, 2013 - 11:11AM

    I recall Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan, the then Member of Parliament issuing a statement in the Parliament praising and encouraging polygamy. There are many in Pakistan, even the educated and influential, who want to take Pakistan backwards.

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  • Toba Alu
    Jan 18, 2013 - 5:02PM

    One small step forward (bill) ten steps backward (bill rejected).

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  • sylmar khan
    Jan 18, 2013 - 9:16PM

    Pakistan should make mandate for girls & boys to marry at 17. This way false impressions of 16 & 18 years will no longer be an issue. We can defeat modern & traditional values as well. also make crime against woman lethal.
    I support this because western nations allow friendship between sexes unlike eastern nations. We should change new laws to give our new generation a ray of hope.
    If someone does crime against woman then he should not able to have a life & prosperity he so chooses. He has to give someone prosperity to attain prosperity this is the golden Rule of God.
    Make weapon free pakistan, that will lessen the crime rate.

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  • DevilHunterX
    Jan 18, 2013 - 9:23PM

    @Raj – USA:
    Who wants to marry a cow?

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  • Jan 19, 2013 - 12:03AM

    This is extremely disappointing news that the Provincial Assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Chief Minister KP have rejected to pass the Child Marriage Restraint Amendment Bill 2013. The news shows that the issue of age was of more concern to the CM and assembly. Indeed, there is a dire need to raise awareness amongst the legislators about the marriageable age from Islamic and scientific perspectives.

    The worries of the CM about a new debate is a lame excuse rather it is very good sign that the issue of child marriage would be discussed, debated, reviewed and finally would lead us to concrete and evidence based legislation or policy.

    The tradition of early marriages are dangerous and harmful for mothers and children and very cost expensive. Such marriages leads to serious complications in pregnancy and slow/poor growth for children. Therefore, Saudi Arabia intends to set a minimum age (18 years) for girls to marry under a new law. It wants to curb child marriages. In other parts of the world, the child marriage is considered a rape.

    If the KP Assembly does not agree with the issue of age, then it must respect the existing law and implement it with true spirit. In order to ensure implementation of the existing marriageable age (which is 16 years for girls and 18 years for boys) in the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929, the assembly must introduce stringent sentences, punishments and fines on the perpetrators who solemnize child marriage. And, also should make the act of solemnizing the child marriage a cognizable offense so that the police can take immediate action on its own.

    Civil society is always open to meet and discuss with the CM on this very serious child protection issue, and also expect that the CM would not let children of KP being abused in the name of marriage.

    Regards,

    Akhtar Laghari
    Manager Advocacy Judicial Reforms
    The Institute for Social Justice (ISJ)
    Islamabad
    03155300412

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