Parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts always have a thing or two to say about the right age for marriage and now, it seems, so does the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA).
Its bill, presented before the Sindh Assembly Secretariat, to make it mandatory for anyone over 18 to tie the knot, has drawn the ire of civil and women’s rights activists.
The activists called the proposed legislation a joke and rejected it entirely. The bill for the Sindh Compulsory Marriage Act 2021 was submitted by Syed Abdul Raheed. It proposes parents be compelled to provide reasons for their child’s delayed nuptials in case they were not wed-locked by 18.
“The parents have to submit a declaration with the concerned deputy commissioner, citing the reasons for delaying marriage. Those who fail to inform DC will have to pay a Rs500 fine for each adult child,” one of the clauses of the bill read.
After submitting the private bill at the assembly secretariat, Rasheed, who belongs to Jamaat-e-Islami, which is a part of the MMA alliance since 2018, correlated the rising number of rape and sexual assault cases with the ratio of unmarried people. “These kind of immoral activities take place when people don’t marry their children on time.”
In a video message, Abdul Rasheed insisted that marriage ceremonies should be arranged with simplicity and he condoned the demand of dowry by parents of the groom.
Meanwhile, Amar Sindhu, associated with the Women Action Forum (WAF), said it was legally, ethically, morally and economically wrong to force any parents to marry their children by 18. “It’s purely a family’s personal decision,” she said.
Sindhu continued that the crucial age of 18 was a time to acquire an education as it played a significant role in developing a society. “Who will guarantee the socioeconomic condition of a couple which has tied the knot at the age of 18?” she asked.
The rights activist also questioned whether the state could take responsibility of the burden placed on the young couple and their families. “There is no precedent in any country where the state is given the authority to force people to make such decisions,” she remarked.
Responding to the MMA claims that marriages at 18 would reduce rape cases, she pointed out that studies by independent organisations showed that the majority of culprits involved in such cases were married. “How can they justify that marriage can stop the inhuman urge to target someone or rape them? This is nonsense,” she concluded.
Similarly, Aurat Foundation’s Anis Haroon dubbed the bill a joke. “This shows the mindset of those people who bring such legislation to the assemblies,” she said. Haroon added there was no room for any such law in Sindh and it would be opposed on all levels. “Marriage is a matter of free will and such a practice will create more poverty as well as increase violence and frustration in society,” she said.
Child rights activist Iqbal Detho maintained that such legislation clashed with Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The international convention gave fundamental rights to parents to make their own choices.
“It seems the MMA MPA has brought the bill for media publicity, nothing else,” he said. The activist highlighted that the speaker of the house maintained the right to bulldoze the bill as it clashed with many international declarations and local laws.