July 11, 2020
By Haider Kaleem
Lawmakers in Punjab have vowed to amend Punjab’s child marriage law and to increase the minimum age of marriage of girls from 16 to 18 years.
Currently the minimum age for marriage of girls in Punjab is 16 but it was set to 18 by the Sindh government in 2014. While an amendment act is pending for approval in the Punjab Assembly.
Chairperson of the ruling party in Sindh; Pakistan People’s Party, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari told Voicepk.net that as far as the legislation on underage marriages is concerned, Sindh government passed the new underage marriage bill, according to which anyone who is under the age of 18 is not allowed to get married in the province.
“Police had started intervening under the stipulations of the new law to stop child marriages but unfortunately, a recent judgment from the Sindh High Court goes against our law and needs to be reviewed,” said Bilawal Bhutto.
The PPP leader further said that the Sindh government will now need to approach the Supreme Court and they will but even if it will have to draft a new legislation, they will draft it.
Section 4 of the Child Marriage Restraint (Punjab Amendment) Ordinance 1971 was previously amended into the Punjab Marriage Restraint Act, 5 years back. After which the terms of imprisonment and fines for whoever performs, conducts, or directs any child marriage were increased along with an increase in the powers of the Family Court concerned to take up these cases.
The last amendment stated that the imprisonment for the crime can now be extended to six months, fine up to fifty thousand rupees, or with both unless the person proves that they had reason to believe that the marriage was not a child marriage but the family court can only take up the case once confirmed by the union council.
Bargad Organization for Youth Development organized a webinar on ending child marriages in Punjab with lawmakers on Thursday. Members of the Punjab assembly (MPA) including Sadia Sohail Rana, Sumaira Bukhari, Bushra Anjum Butt, Raheela Khadim Hussain, and Muneeb-ul-Haq were some of the speakers.
PMLN’s MPA, Raheela Khadim said he had personally tabled an amendment to take up the minimum age of marriage for girls to 18 years in Punjab during the previous government but it could be done due to the fears related to the social barriers in the society.
“We submitted a new amendment under the PTI government with the help of my other colleagues to increase the age of marriage,” said Khadim while addressing the webinar.
She further pointed out that despite the minimum age determined as 16 by the existing law, girls in Southern Punjab are being married off between the age of 10-12 years hence they are the ones most affected as they are already malnutrition resulting in disabled families.
Talking about another amendment she is working with the support of the treasury bench, Khadim stated that the cases of rescued children must not be given to family courts because according to the existing law the state accepts that they are dealing with the child hence the cases must be taken up by child courts.
PTI’s MPA, Sumaira Ahmed Bokhari believes that the issue of child marriages becomes so prevalent in the society that we as a society need a united effort for its elimination regardless of which party the concerned member belongs to because nobody else is paying attention to the gravity of the situation as it is mostly found to be happening in the working-class families.
“The punishment should be increased while the media, especially the entertainment industry needs to pay attention to this issue instead of focusing on topics like divorce and extramarital affairs” added Bokhari.
Bokhari vowed to take up the issue on the floor of the assembly in the next session after working on it with all parties and other stakeholders from the civil society. She emphasized on the need of having clerics who administer marriages to also be on board in order to move forward with the required legislation.
She further said mass awareness campaigns need to be put in place because we are also losing so many lives due to child marriages.
While praising Sindh government’s efforts, another PTI lawmaker in Punjab since 2013, Sadia Sohail Rana said the only real opposition she faced during the previous government in amending the child marriage act was by the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII).
“This time the CII is also on board to make the required amendments but we are also going to introduce a rule which makes the need of a CNIC mandatory for the registration of a legitimate marriage in Punjab” revealed Rana while addressing the webinar.
According to the latest proposed amendments shared by PTI lawmakers, there are punishments for everyone involved carrying out, facilitating, or abetting an underage marriage other than increasing the already proposed fine to more than 100,000 from 50,000 currently.
Executive Director of the Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Cell, Nida Aly told voicepk.net that It is imperative that the minimum age of marriage for a girl should be changed to 18 years under the Marriage Restraint Act.
“The law should make amendments to declare any underage marriage null and void and this issue should not be left at the discretion of the judiciary where several marriages have been validated in the past,” she added.
After so many years, all mainstream political parties and stakeholders have agreed to criminalize underage marriages and also to take up the minimum age of marriage to 18 years in Punjab.