The parliamentary speaker on Thursday referred a bill seeking to increase the penalty for underage marriages to the National Assembly Standing Committee on Religious Affairs, much to the dismay of the lawmaker who introduced it in the house.
The bill, which seeks to amend section 5 of the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, was introduced by Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) Kishwer Zehra. Under the existing law, any male over the age of 18 who married a child can be imprisoned for up to one month or charged a fine of Rs1,000 or both. Zehra’s bill seeks to increase punishment to one year’s imprisonment and a Rs300,000 fine.
While moving the bill, the MQM lawmaker argued that the decades-old law was being misused in rural areas, especially by parents of young girls to force them into marriages without their consent.
When NA Speaker Ayaz Sadiq asked Religious Affairs Minister Sardar Muhammad Yousaf if he opposed the amendment, the latter said he did not. However, the minister said the bill should be sent to the NA Standing Committee on Religious Affairs.
Zehra objected to the suggestion, pointing out that a similar bill, introduced by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s Marvi Memon, had already been turned down by both that committee and the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII).
“It will be a waste of time if this bill is referred to the same body which rejected earlier amendments [in the Child Marriage Restraint Act],” she said.
To this, Sardar Yousaf replied that CII was the body to clear such legislation in the country and said “no legislation which conflicts with the Holy Quran and the Hadith can be passed.”
Zehra told the speaker that the body called the changes ‘un-Islamic, rather than blasphemous’.
The speaker, however, still referred the bill to the religious affairs panel.
The earlier bill, moved by Marvi Memon, sought to limit the minimum age of marriage to 18 years. The CII turned it down on March 10, 2014, saying that laws pertaining to the minimum age of marriage were against Islamic teachings and that any child could get married if he or she had attained puberty.
Interestingly, Zehra, who is a member of the NA panel on religious affairs, opposed the CII decision even then.
Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) Nafisa Shah moved a resolution urging the government to take steps to conduct the census. Her fellow party lawmaker, Ramesh Lal, asked the government to declare Holi and Diwali national holidays, and to take notice of forced conversion in Bahawalpur.
In response to another resolution, Parliamentary Secretary for Interior Maryum Aurangzeb said mapping has been completed for setting up counters for women at all National Database and Registration Authority offices in the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 25th, 2016.